Bill Clinton tells the story that in his first run for the White House he prominently displayed a sign that read, “It’s the economy, stupid”. What he meant was that he needed to focus on the obvious. My personal mantra is “It’s the education, stupid”. The Holy Sepulcher Mission is, fundamentally about educating those, who without outside help, would be locked into a life of poverty due – lacking the options made available by education. We are animated to action by our love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. We hear his voice. He is speaking directly to us, not metaphorically, not to somebody else, when he teaches us how to live.
” … I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” John 25:35-36
Three of these children are in school because of the $50 scholarship provided by Holy Sepulcher Parish. Two live in villages, remote from Patzún, riding public transportation at the cost of 8 Quetzals, nearly a half day’s wages. The mother of another of these is dying. The father lives in a far village, works every day but earns only 15 to 20 Quetzals ($2 – $2.50) each day for his efforts. Two plan to become physicians. One walks 3 kilometers to and from home and although the family of 8 lives in a single room with no running water, they are a bit too wealthy for a scholarship. All live in in-tact families and hope for a better future.
Why is education so important? Why doesn’t the father who works in the coffee fields simply get a better job? The answers are connected. In Guatemala you work where you can find work. Family members get first preference and then come neighbors. If the father left his home for another village, where pay is better, he would be unemployed. He would be an unwelcome stranger and a threat. If he went to a town like Patzún or a city like the capital he would find little or no work. Many who travel this road become victims of violence and alcohol, some themselves becoming lawless and violent.
Education gives people good choices. In the Patzún the uneducated male will work in the broccoli or bean fields. A few hundred meters lower on the mountain coffee dominates. Below that it is cotton and finally, at sea level, are sugar cane and bananas. Women sew and weave, selling what they make in the local markets. Wages are not always as low as $2 per day. In a more prosperous village $4 per day is common. I have heard about people making as much as $8 though I don’t know any. A graduate of San Bernardino’s highest level, a college prep or trade school known as diversificado, will earn $2,500 per year as a teacher or even more in an office job in Guatemala City. The two young women that my wife and I sponsored over the years have lived this story. Both cases were a bit more dramatic in that both were at the orphanage when we met them, truly rags to relative riches. One now spends part of each year and a portion of her income on mission to the poor in Guatemala. It is humbling.
Without education people are tied to their economic roots or face enormous risk and uncertainty. With education they can become self sufficient and reasonably aspire to higher education and a host of opportunities.
Why doesn’t the government help? It does and it doesn’t, much like our government. Why not a revolution? Why don’t the poor demand their rights? A group of well-meaning first worlders tried that beginning in 1961 and what ensued was 36 years of the bloodiest civil war our hemisphere has known. The Manchester Guardian reports that 200,000 people in this country of 8-10 million (at that time) were killed or disappeared in that war. These numbers are 1 to 2 orders of magnitude greater than the troubles of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras combined. The civil war gouged into the lives of my closest friends who will, in important ways, never fully recover. I will devote other essays to this topic but please believe me, Guatemala needs no more war.
Guatemala can use your help. There are real children with real needs, needs that can be addressed by very small, well targeted gifts. San Bernardino stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity wrapped in hard work and the love of Christ.