by Julie Cramer Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Chimaltenango is a knotted hub of transportation located along the world’s longest road—the Pan American Highway, which threads through the Americas from Alaska to the tip of Brazil. Tucked into El Altiplano (“The Highlands”)—a region of mountains and volcanoes as well as canyons and valleys—Chimaletango is a place of contrasts. Most residents work as farmers—raising grain, sugarcane or livestock—or as artisans or merchants.A large group of families—both children and parents--work 12- to 14-hour days as garbage pickers in the trash dump, earning $3 to $4 a day.Here—in what Orphan Outreach has come to call, “The Ravine,”—workers, employed by the dump’s owner, pluck recyclable items from the culvert of trash, even as new loads tumble down from trucks at the edge.“I was scared the first time I went to The Ravine,” admits Orphan Outreach’s Director of Marketing and Development Tiffany Taylor Wines. “We took them baseball hats. At the dump in Honduras, if you brought baseball hats, you would be mauled. Instead, these people nicely lined up and thanked us when they received the hat. There are children everywhere, and moms with babies on their backs. They just have the sweetest spirit about them. From the very beginning, we wondered what we could do to help these families. They are so thankful and humble.”That visit was in 2012.WOW (Women for Orphans Worldwide), a national auxiliary of Orphan Outreach, fell into step alongside the agency to meet the needs of the Chimaltenango families working in The Ravine. True to its mission “to improve the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual lives of orphans and vulnerable children in Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Latvia, Russia, and the United States,” WOW’s Dallas Chapter began sending food and educating the children.But they knew they wanted to do more.With a big vision in mind, WOW piloted a small community outreach program this past summer. The Ravine women, who are ethnically Mayans, had been cooking via a traditional “three stone fire” method inside their homes. Basically, they cooked over open pits dug into the dirt floors. Their homes, however, are makeshift structures of tin and wood, with no ventilation, electricity, or running water. Toddlers were tripping into the pits and incurring severe burns, and entire families were developing acute respiratory disorders from inhaling fumes. Not to mention, the families had to trudge miles to haul wood or spend 40% of their meager earnings to buy wood.WOW recruited HELP International to install more than 20 stoves in 2015, which remedy these problems and only cost $250 each, as well as water purifiers. The community responded so well that WOW is moving forward with its 2016 initiative—a Community Outreach Center for families of The Ravine.“These are families of extreme poverty,” Tiffany, one of WOW’s founders, said. “This program is about family preservation—keeping kids from becoming orphans. WOW is providing the majority of the support for this. We have rented a building close to The Ravine so the families can walk there, and we have hired a social worker. The plan for next year is to start a school on the property.”Chimaltenango needs this. A large thoroughfare, the town is a haven for drug and sex traffickers.“It’s the town located as you are leaving Guatemala City to go to half the country,” Tiffany said. “It has been known for a lot of crime, exploitation of women, and prostitution. It has a high population of orphans and people living in extreme poverty. It’s a transient area, with a large red light district. The exploitation of young girls is rampant. What excites me and the other WOW founders is that we are so committed to helping orphans and making a difference in Guatemala. We’ve connected with these moms that are working so hard in the dump for their children. We love being able to come alongside them.”During the trip to put in stoves and water purifiers, Joyce Rogge—a WOW founder—bonded with the family in whose home she helped with the installation. In October, she traveled back to Guatemala with Tiffany so that she could see them again.As she and Tiffany were standing in The Ravine, the family’s matriarch—a grandmother—rushed up to Joyce, crying. Her granddaughter—diagnosed at the hospital as having strep throat—had been lying in bed for two weeks in severe pain because she did not have the money to buy antibiotics.The cost of those antibiotics would equal ten US dollars.Joyce gave her the money and told her to buy the medicine. This immediate resolution to problems is at the heart of WOW’s soon-to-open community center.“That grandmother didn’t have anyone to go to,” Tiffany said. “When we have a social worker on site with the community program, that grandmother will have somewhere to go for help. We’re going to make immediate differences for these families. We’re just moms helping other moms. I think that is why all the WOW women are so excited about the program.”Click here to learn more about WOW, or here to help a Chimaltenango family today!