Well, the first full day in Guatemala City has come to a close. We are all doing well, even though a few of us are not used to meat-less meals on a regular basis. Seriously though, we are doing well and have been welcomed very warmly by everyone whom we have come in contact with thus far. In the short time we have been travelling, I must say that Ben has given me the best quote; it comes from the preface of a book he brought and was said by John Dryden: “Beware the fury of a patient man.”

 

In the first thirty-six or so hours, we have had the privilege of meeting some pretty amazing people. These people have overcome adversity that was not even on my radar before our plane left Phoenix, or even Houston. All of these guatemaltecos have a common, intrinsic quality that has driven them to push through adversity when they had plenty of reason to give up: passion. Even before this trip, I knew that there was a stereotypical view of most latinos that they were fiery and ardent that can easily be misconstrued as anger and hot-headedness. I know stereotypes are not always true, but in this case and with these people, it is very, very true. This flaming passion is derived from many different places, ranging on the spectrum from pain to joy to sheer faith. For these men and women, it was their passion that drove them to make significant changes in their lives for the betterment of themselves and of others.

 

On Tuesday, shortly after Flight 1500 from Houston touched down, we were on our way to La Casa De Amistad por Las Muchachas y Los Muchaches de La Calle (The House of Friendship for the Girls and Boys of the Streets). This shelter, also known as MOJOCA, provides a safe place for people looking to get off the streets, leave their addictions or problems behind, and find a skill to become a leader and productive member in society. We had the opportunity to meet with Glenda, Sandra and Alfonso.

Sandra, Glenda, and Mirka, former street kids now clean, now on staff at MOJOCA.

These three are the leaders of the shelter and keep everything running smoothly. We also had the opportunity to talk to Julian, a 25 year old man trying to quit his drug abuse and become a leader at the shelter (much like Alfonso). The most amazing thing about the leaders of this shelter is that they were, at one time or another, living on the street and facing the same challenges that the men and women who come to them for guidance are experiencing. Of the three, Glenda’s story hit many of us very hard. Glenda had spent the majority of her youth on the streets of Guatemala City where she abused almost everything you can think of and faced constant danger; however, that all changed when the President of MOJOCA told her that he would love to have her come to the shelter and become a future leader. Glenda explained that “paying it forward” and trying to give the same opportunities that she was given and inspire the same type of result in the less fortunate that inhabit the streets of Guatemala City today is why Glenda has chosen to dedicate herself to the shelter. It is easy to see the passion the Glenda has for her work because of the pure joy she incarnates when she interacts with all of the different kids that she comes into contact with. Her decision to give back and join MOJOCA also stemmed from the birth of her first child. At that time, Glenda was still battling with addiction and street life. She realized that it would be unfair to her newborn daughter if she did not clean up her act and better herself.

On Wednesday morning, we met a dynamic man named Hector Castaneda. Both a pastor and a professor, Hector explained to us the role of the Catholic Church in the history and present of Guatemala. As Hector’s history lesson began to finish, we started to talk about the tragedies involved in the brutal Guatemalan Civil War.

As the conversation deepened, Hector opened up to us and confessed that one of his brothers was one of the more than 250,000 lives that were lost during the 36 year war. As a journalist at the time, Hector’s brother was forced to choose a side between the dangerous government-backed military and the rebellious guerillas. Hector’s brother sided with the guerrillas and that cost him his life at the hands of the military, only after a lengthy session of torture that took him to the brink of death. During the story, Hector’s English got more and more broken, but more and more powerful through the tears. He explained that his brother is one of the main reasons why he is so active in the ecumenical movement of the Church here in Guatemala. He is still looking to find peace within the Church so that peace outside of the Church will be easier to come by. After Hector wiped his eyes, someone asked him if there was any other reason why he was so adamant and active in the political and social spheres. He simply said that the Gospels also motivated him to pursue justice for all of the people of Guatemala.

Shortly after everyone in the group was invigorated by Hector’s speech, we packed into the busses and made our way to Fe y Alegria Escuela (Faith and Happiness School) in El Limón, one of the more dangerous areas within Guatemala City. Fe Y Alegria is a Jesuit elementary school that enrolls 407 students up until 9th grade, and is part of an international system of Jesuit Schools in Latin America. When we arrived, we had a meeting with Luis, Montserrata, Sarah and Martha. These four constitute the administration of the school, with Luis actually being the principal. Initially, Luis explained that he had many doubts about coming to this school because of its poor economic standing, which would affect both him and the quality of the education. He also said that his family begged him to decline the teaching position because of the dangerous threats that come with working in El Limón. He eventually accepted the job and after four years of teaching math, became the principal. We asked Luis why he chose Fe Y Alegria in the first place and why he had stuck around. His reason was apparent as soon as we visited the classrooms of some of the middle-school grades. The unparalleled joy on his face when he walked into a room to see kids learning to change Centigrade to Fahrenheit or learning to draw from a teacher who was actually an artist herself made everything worth it for him. The passion in his eyes and his voice when he would talk to kids about schoolwork or soccer was unmistakable.

Conor, Calvin Fairbourn, and Principal Luis of Fe y Alegria School “El Limon” with eighth grade students.

Ultimately, these three inspiring guatemaltecos are working, in their own way, to build a better Guatemala for themselves and the future. It is easy to see why these three are all also very successful in their mission because of the pure passion they possess. I have realized that this sort of passion cannot be achieved without overcoming some type of obstacle or facing an experience that evokes a feeling that you never want to feel again. For Glenda, she overcame the obvious danger of Guatemalan street life and the drug culture to become an empowered leader of the only organization in Guatemala who truly succeeds at trying to clean up the streets for good. In addition to that, the financial hardship that accompanies this kind of enterprise (especially without any governmental aid of any kind) only strengthens her will to get past the impossible. For Hector, his intelligence and faith in God have worked together to gain him a sense of peace after the death of his brother and also to work towards this same sense of reconciliation for all people following the Civil War. For Luis, his fe in God and determination to face the dangers of inner-city education have allowed him to help build a school system that is breaking the cycle of poverty and providing alegria for a new generation of students. With all of this difficulty, it is very inspiring to see people that almost have a right to give up and quit to persevere and go beyond themselves and do incredible things. The passion that has motivated these three people to keep fighting is the type of will that allows someone to do anything they set their mind to, regardless of what gets in their way. So, my advice—if you are standing between one of these people (or others like them) and their ultimate goal—beware the passion of a resilient Guatemalteco.

 

3 Responses to La Pasión de Los Guatemaltecos, by Conor Triplett

  1. cathi triplett says:

    How strong these people are who have been through so much. It shows how soft many of us in this country have become. I know the young men in this group will not leave Guatemala unchanged . . . and it will be for the better after reading all these journal entries!

  2. Kirk Triplett says:

    Thanks for seeing and sharing.

  3. Jack Brown says:

    This is what I want my retreat to be. Either this or Kai Ross

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