It’s the beginning of a new year and a good day to reflect on the soil trod over the past year.
Early in 2017 we made the decision to plant longer-term roots, stay in Mérida, and set up Mission Yucatán. The idea was to continue to provide support to the five projects we have grown to love over our past three years of service : Casa de los Abuelos, a home for 50 abandoned grandparents, Emanuel Fundación, a home for 12 children who have been rescued from abusive families, Camp John 3:16, a sports camp for children in the pueblos near Baca, and two small developing churches, one in the city of Mérida and one in the rural community of Hunucmá. Our hope is to share hope. It sounds trite but I think that actually sums it up. We see ourselves as ordinary people living out extra-ordinary lives only because of the Hope that lives within our hearts. We focus on going about life one day at a time and planting seeds. God does all the rest.
Along the way, we learn and grow up too. It’s clear that each of us in the Cuthill clan is a work-in-progress, or ‘under-baked’ as it were. It’s not always easy living this way but there is reward in the effort and the scrapes offer only light and temporary affliction. Our kids are now fluent beyond imagination in Spanish and we are all picking up a bit of Mayan here and there via the family that lives with us from the pueblo of Mayapán. Marta and Andres and three of their five children are living with us in our new home in Merida. Their eldest two, Victor and Raymundo, are bucking the trend and have completed their engineering degrees. We provide them free room and board while they work to get their careers started in Mérida-based companies. The chiquitita is named Andrea and you will see her prominently in our photos as our ‘fourth child’. She is now repeating phrases in English, counting to 10, reciting colors and speaking My Little Pony like any four year old. She calls Kary ‘daddy’ which is awfully cute, not because she is confused by who her father is, but simply because she hears this name said so often in our house.
Kary and I are doing well and spending more time together than ever. I’m sure he regrets that on the odd day when I clearly have no one else to talk to. We have a healthy morning routine including exercise and breakfast for two. Then it’s off to work for the both of us and we meet up along the way to troubleshoot and brainstorm. Or to accomplish the more glamorous job of taxi service for three kids going eighteen directions. Our Spanish is coming along but there are still moments when I wonder how it is that we ever order tacos de cochinita without inadvertently calling someone a piglet. All it takes is a simple slip of verb conjugation, trust me. With time comes more awareness of my ignorance on a whole range of topics. Rarely do I feel much smarter than when I arrived.
In our outreach effort we are encountering a lot of poverty. I’m sure you are not surprised to know that the old adage about Mexico still stands, that there really isn’t much of a middle class, only the wealthy and the poor. Last week we traveled to Mayapán to visit Andres’ and Marta’s extended family. We were reminded of the basics that we take for granted. Living in poverty means that toilets are luxuries afforded by few. Septic systems are not prevalent. Open air fires for cooking cause a great deal of smoke in most homes. Garbage service is either non-existent or not-valued and trash is left on the ground.
Add to these uncomfortable realities those of illiteracy, truancy and school dropout. Marta and Andres’ family is the exception in their pueblo, with five out of five kids still studying or working in a career. The vast majority of kids will drop out by the time they reach middle school. Many girls are pregnant by the age of 15, living at home or with the in-laws (if they are in the picture). The majority of parents don’t see the value in education, fearing that their children will eventually leave them without any one to take care of them in their later years. Alcoholism is rampant and along with it comes not only a lack of funds at home, but the common story of physical abuse.
Marta broke down in tears this week as she explained that from the age of 12 and onward she had to defend her mother against her alcoholic father. She looks for a different life for her children. She and Andres are bought into the idea that education, in the home, in school, in church, is the foundation that is missing in their pueblo. They stand apart from the majority who would rather their kids drop out and get jobs instead of finishing middle school. They themselves did not finish secondary school and I’m pretty sure that Andres can’t read. I’m inspired by their work ethic and the value they place on helping their kids to break the cycle. In addition to helping them with steady employment, we want to help a few kids along the way, like Victor, Raymundo and Andrea. Victor is my student right now, learning English in the evenings after work. We gave Andrea an old iPad for Christmas loaded up with reading and math apps in English. She will no doubt in turn teach her brother Raymundo although I’m not sure how valuable it is to know vocabulary associated with Pinkie Pie in his role in industrial engineering. You never know.
Kary, the ever practical and intelligent one in the family, sees the value in helping the helpers to help others. The chain reaction model works well in our house and it works well in outreach too. We work alongside our partners to help them to help families in their respective pueblos. It’s the tried and true model … listen carefully to local leaders, give support where you can, then get out of the way and see what happens. And don’t forget that your neighbor or the guy standing on the sideline of the soccer field on Saturday morning are all part of the bigger picture too.
Miguel, Ricardo, Gama, Lupita and Estela, our five primary partners, all share one thing in common. They help kids, families, even abandoned grandparents to pour down the educational foundation, academically, emotionally and spiritually. In the midst of giving the gift of a foundation, they simply love others through their trials and suffering. And they smile through the joys and triumphs of living a life in good company. We get to be part of that. It’s good ground to trod.