I’ve been home from Guatemala for a week now, and the transition has been kind of strange. There are things to be done, leaving little time or attention to sort through my emotions, so I do so haphazardly. Woodenly. My friend spent a good amount of time in Africa last year, and she came back and told me that the people there are in starved for clean water.
I flush clean water in my bathroom. I run it through a sprinkler and my kids play in it. I wonder if the people in Africa know that I do this.
I’m here, in Connecticut, with my family… but I’m in Guatemala, too.
I stand on the side of the road in and a dog walks past me. Not a dog – a skeleton of a dog. Ribs bare and eyes black, head down. He looks so pitiful and it makes me so sad, but I do not shed tears for this dog or any of the dozens of strays I see throughout the week. Instead, I cry when told that small children die in Guatemala because of gang violence, malnutrition, and preventable diseases. Respiratory infections and stomach bugs send children to their graves. Gangs formed out of a war-torn land battle and children become their casualties. Young girls and boys are bought and sold like chattel, forced into prostitution or hard labor.
I’m in a shop in Antigua and I feel a hand on the small of my back. I turn around to face a little boy. He holds up a brush and asks if he can shine my shoes. The man to my left says no in my stead. The boy doesn’t move.
Por favor. Tengo hambre. Please. I’m hungry.
Before I can say anything, the shop owner shoos him off, he scampers down the road, and I’m flooded with guilt.
“You couldn’t have told him yes. It’s child labor,” a low voice explains. “And if you had said yes, that money is not going for him to have a meal. That money is going to his handler.”
Said so matter-of-fact, but the words twist inside me. Children, up and down the streets I’m walking, asking me to buy their bracelets, offering to clean my shoes. Human trafficking is prevalent in Guatemala. Here, in this same town, there are children being rented out to depraved men – children turned into marionettes by someone bigger than them.
Remmy puts her arms around my neck and plants a kiss on my cheek. “I figured it out.” Her smile is wide. I look down and she’s assembled a truck with Legos – just like the pictures showed her.
“It’s perfect! Great job! I am so proud of you.” She beams and runs off with the instruction booklet, ready to build a house next. I watch her build with Legos and draw pictures of her sisters and dance and sway to the radio. I smile when I see her snuggled into bed with a pile of books next to her.
Remmy does not worry about her next meal. No one will ever buy her or sell her. She doesn’t think twice about dancing through clean water spouting through a garden hose in the front yard. A common cold does not threaten her being.
I am blessed and grateful and yet I’m devastated knowing that there are Remmys in Antigua and Guatemala City, hustling strangers for money, and being hustled by handlers for money. And then I am mad, angry, white-hot inside that we in our privileged countries are unaware of it. Or aware of it and unwilling to do anything about it.
World Vision is not perfect. No humanitarian organization is. Abject poverty is beast with many layers and no easy solutions. But I know that World Vision is changing lives and saving lives all over the world.
When I was first asked to be a part of this trip, my yes was to partnering with a big humanitarian organization. But it has become so much more than that.
My yes is a yes to the heartbreak that comes with tearing down ignorance.
Yes to justice.
Yes to eradicating child trafficking.
Yes to anger on behalf of the oppressed.
Yes to loving children that are not my own.