Beams of early morning sunlight streamed through the cornstalk wall of the kitchen we entered. "Buenos días," I greeted Señora Rosa Guaran. She smiled back and encouraged me to sit at a small wooden table. Her family had been planning breakfast for me for the past few weeks, since they learned I was coming to Guatemala to visit "Tomás" — Tom Benevento, a Trees for Life volunteer from Pennsylvania.
Beams of early morning sunlight streamed through the cornstalk wall of the kitchen we entered. "Buenos días," I greeted Sñeora Rosa Guaran. She smiled back and encouraged me to sit at a small wooden table. Her family had been planning breakfast for me for the past few weeks, since they learned I was coming to Guatemala to visit "Tomás" ? Tom Benevento, a Trees for Life volunteer from Pennsylvania.
I sat watching Rosa prepare beans, tortillas and eggs-a rare treat-at the wood-burning cookstove. The dirt floor had been neatly swept. The walls were five or six cinder blocks high with corn stalks above them reaching to a tin roof. A few cooking utensils, a cookstove, a table, and five chairs-that was all the room contained.
Later I saw the other two rooms in the house: two small bedrooms, each containing one bed. The only other furnishing in the house was an old treadle sewing machine. Rosa's husband, Manuel, uses it to make the children's clothes and to earn additional income for the family. A kitchen and two bedrooms-that was their home.
At the kitchen table their four-year-old son Quiqui ("kee-kee") climbed onto my lap. Placing his two small hands on my face, he turned my eyes to a book he carried. His mother explained in Spanish. "Quiqui's older sisters bring their schoolwork home each day and show it to us. Quiqui wanted to do homework too. So I got him his own tablet and pencil and started to work with him on his alphabet."
I was reminded of my own four-year-old son Michael. When Michael's older sister did her schoolwork at home, Michael would insist on doing his "schoolwork" too. So Mom would give him paper and pencil, like Quiqui's mother, and help him with his letters.
As we ate breakfast together, I thought of my family and the dreams and opportunities my children have. But here, Quiqui had none of those opportunities. The odds that Quiqui would be healthy and educated, that he could ever grow up to realize his dreams, seemed almost non-existent.
Quiqui's family cannot afford to send him to school next year. Silvia, his oldest sister, is sponsored by the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), a non-profit group that helps with her education and health care. The family still pays a small part of her tuition. They cannot afford health care for the rest of the family. They pay full tuition for Angelica, Quiqui's other sister, because they think it is important for her to receive an education. But they can only afford full tuition for one.
A few months ago Manuel started working at the Trees for Life training center in his town, San Antonio Aguas Calientes. With the help of Trees for Life, he has also attended several technical courses in tree nursery practices and tree pruning, which should help increase his potential earnings.
This is the second year of this project. With Manuel's guidance, local school children and community members have started 5,000 fruit tree seedlings in the nursery at the training center again this year. Manuel teaches local farmers how to plant and care for the fruit trees they buy from the nursery at the training center. Each farmer pays a small price for the fruit trees and makes a commitment to teach two others to grow and care for trees.
Teaching his neighbors to grow fruit trees gives Manuel the opportunity to earn additional income. He and Rosa are determined to provide tuition for all their children.
Manuel and Rosa had shown me much kindness and warmth. As Quiqui and his sisters inherit these qualities and their parents' love for learning and hard work, they may well see their childhood dreams come true.