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Hierguth July 31, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 10:51 am

I was just looking back through old posts and I can’t believe the last time I wrote a blog was in March.  I plan to write more, but Ashley is such a good writer and she enjoys doing the blogs, so I just let her do it.  However, there’s been several occurrences with Hierguth recently that I wanted to write down, so I’m writing a blog solely dedicated to him.  I have written about Hierguth previously, but for those who don’t know, he is a feisty 7 year old who we have become extremely close to.  Several months ago, we noticed that Hierguth was in the book of children that needed a sponsor.  It was a no-brainer… we decided to sponsor him.  Hierguth is old enough to understand what that means, so since the day that we told him we were his sponsors our relationship has been a little different.

For starters, he always knew that Ashley was my wife, but never really talked to her other than to ask where I was.  Now, he will run and give her a hug and enjoys spending time with her.  Before we sponsored him, he would yell my name whenever he happened to see me, run towards me and jump on me.  Then he would get down and lead me somewhere to play.  Now, he searches for me, yells my name and runs to jump on me, but he doesn’t let go.  He hugs me, calls me “lindo” which is like calling me nice, and just wants me to carry him around.  He knows without a shadow of a doubt that he is my sponsor child and that he is loved by me.  I can also use that against him when he is being bad.  If he is doing something he shouldn’t, or angry with me because I made him do something he didn’t want to do, I just tell him “Hierguth, I’m your sponsor.”  I don’t say anything but that… no “I’m your sponsor so you have to listen to me” or “I’m your sponsor, so don’t disrespect me.”  He just understands that I say that to mean “I love you.”  His attitude will instantly change when I say that, and will sheepishly come to me and want me to pick him up.

Something interesting happened about 3 weeks ago when the Chapin team was here.  I want to preface this story by telling another story (yea I know I get off on tangents, get used to it).  Hierguth has recently been coming up to Jafeth and myself, usually with one of his friends, complaining about a headache, stomach ache, or both.  It’s usually a little odd because we always see him playing normally right before he does that.  We assume most times that he is faking it because he wants attention, as well as a little jello snack that we usually give kids who need a band-aid or tylenol.  We have told him before, “Ok, if you feel that bad you need to go home” and he just smiles and says he feels better, and then runs off.  I told Jafeth it reminds me of the little boy who cried wolf, and one day he was really going to be sick and we weren’t going to believe him.  Now back to 3 weeks ago.  Hierguth came in the morning complaining about a bad sore throat.  I thought at first he was faking, but after watching him mope around even when he didn’t think we were watching him, as well as crying with one of our teachers after telling her his throat hurt really bad, I believed that he was actually sick.  Jafeth gave him some children’s tylenol, and about an hour passed.  The Chapin team had brought all the kids inside to do a skit for them and then feed them lunch, and I saw Hierguth sitting by himself on the floor.  I went to go sit next to him, and he sat in my lap.  He told me he didn’t feel good, and I asked if he felt nauseous.  He said no, that his throat hurt.  The team did the skit, and then as one of the men and Maiko were talking to the kids about the moral of the story, Hierguth started to get up out of my lap.  For a split-second I wondered why he was getting up, and was about to tell him to sit back down, when I saw a puddle of liquid in front of him.  I then realized what happened and thought “Holy crap he just threw up.” Most of you probably don’t know this, but vomit is one of my biggest fears and things that gross me out.  I absolutely hate getting sick and will do anything I can to prevent it or prolong it, and I get physically afraid (like fast heartbeat and an adrenaline rush) if I think someone is about to get sick.  I’ve been known to run out of a room if someone looks like they’re about to throw up.  I did run out the room this time, but carrying Hierguth with me, albeit at full arms length.  I put him down outside on the edge of the sidewalk where he could finish his business in the bushes.  I sat there with my hand on his back as he heaved several more times.  I was shocked how much liquid that boy could hold in his stomach.  Once Jafeth realized what was happening, he ran outside and sat with Hierguth as I went back inside to clean up the vomit.  I didn’t really notice until later and the situation had a chance to sink it, but the whole vomit thing didn’t bother me one bit as it was happening.  I always used to ask my mom “How did you handle all the poop and throw up when Liz and I were young kids?”  She just responded, “When it’s your kid, you love them so much that you just do what you have to do and that stuff doesn’t bother you.”  I’m beginning to understand that now, and I feel like I’m one step closer to being ready for fatherhood.

I’m going to leave you with this story that happened about a week and a half ago.  The Friday before last, we were having our midyear celebration and awards party for the education program.  Only the kids up to about 12 years old could come, and they had to be invited to be able to attend.  We had a morning and afternoon party, with crafts, bounce houses, face-painting, balloon animals, and finished it off with the awards and lunch.  Hierguth came to the afternoon party, and spent most of his time playing in the bounce house and with his balloon animal.  When it came time for the awards, he sat in my lap on the floor as we listened to Jenny start to announce the winners.  Both parties had three awards each, two for the older children and only one for the younger kids who are just learning to read and write.  As Jenny began to talk about the younger kids award, she said “This child comes a lot to do program” and Hierguth blurts out “I come a lot!”  and everyone laughs.  Then as she continues to describe the winner with things like “has been doing a great job reading, and has improved a lot on writing letters”, he turns to me and whispers “Soy yo” (It’s me) with a smile on his face.  I thought “Oh no, he thinks it’s him now and when she calls someone else’s name he’s going to be so disappointed.”  But wouldn’t you know it, she finally calls the name and it’s Hierguth.  Everyone claps and whistles as he gets up to claim his prize, undoubtedly no one louder than me.  Then he came back to sit down with his prize bag in his hand, which consisted of a bag of marbles (which most of the kids, including him, are crazy for right now) and a slingshot.  Maybe not the best combination of gifts, but he was so excited.  One of the other winners of that afternoon party was a girl named Brittany, who was sitting in Jafeth’s lap during the ceremony.  He has grown attached to her and always plays with her, so he came up to me after the party and said “I’m so happy” in a fake-crying voice.  I laughed and then told him “Yea, and Hierguth won too.  You know he’s my sponsor child, right?”  Jafeth then sincerely responds “Wow, you must be so proud.”  He hit the nail on the head there.  In fact, I was so proud that I snuck another present in his bag later so that no one would see it.  He had seen an Optimus Prime toy that was in a pile of things for Christmas, and I had told him he couldn’t have it.  Well obviously I’m a bit of a pushover.  I guess we know who Ashley and my future kids are going to come to when they really want something.  Hierguth had so much stuff with him that I offered to walk him to his house to help him carry everything.  He was really excited, and we hurried off to his house down in the Bajo.  He ran inside and then yelled for his mom to come and see who was in their house.  I greeted her as well as someone who I assumed was his grandmother.  Hierguth told his mom he won the award and showed her his prizes, then ran to the front porch with a friend to play with the marbles.  I got a chance to talk with his mom, which was actually only the third time I had seen her, and she told me how well he was doing in 1st grade.  I then told her he was a really good boy.  I hope she realizes how true that is and is proud of him.  I’m not going to pretend that I know the intricacies of their relationship and I don’t know what happens behind closed doors, but in the little that I’ve seen her interact with him, it just seems like she’s a little disinterested.    It’s hard to blame her when she’s a young mother with 3 children living in poverty with a mess of problems; she has enough to worry about in regards to herself without having to deal with another human life.  It just scares me to think that Ashley and I are leaving in 5 months and we have to leave Hierguth behind.  Sure, we’ll be back to visit and will send him letters, but we won’t be here like his mom will be as he’s growing up in this awful environment to encourage him and show him love.  I hope and pray that she treats him how he deserves to be treated.  Whatever the case may be, he’ll always know how proud he makes us and how much we love him.

 

Good Memories July 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 2:26 am
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So I was going to name this blog post something about heartwarming memories. I then realized that one of these disqualifies that description pretty much immediately. I’ll use that one to kick this off!

Most everyone knows Justin Larry by now, also known as Little Larry. This kid makes me laugh almost every single time I see him. He is in La La land 100% of the time. He is always running into doors, tables, walls, and pretty much anything else that you could run into. And whenever it happens, he always just looks stunned as if that wall just popped up out of nowhere. I will say that Justin Larry is pretty good about not crying every time these things happen, but that’s probably a testament of how used to it he is. Anyways, a couple of weeks ago, Andrew and I were sitting in Gringo church on a Sunday morning. Justin Larry’s mom, Karla, was sitting near us with her two older children while he was outside wondering around. He walks up to the big glass window and puts his two tiny hands on the window. He was staring in at us when all of a sudden, he just starts licking the window. I’m talking like a good six inch swipe of the tongue up and down the window. Andrew and I nearly died laughing. Now do you see why I can’t call this blog heartwarming?

Since we are in the midst of rainy season here in Costa Rica, we are often moving inside the church for indoor games in the afternoons when the rain comes. It tends to be kind of chaotic, but luckily we now have the air-nasium out back and the teenagers like to go play out there. One afternoon, I was inside playing board games with the younger kids. I found myself sitting underneath a table with Maikel and Valerie, two 4 year olds. We weren’t so much playing a game as inventing a new one that made no sense, but such is life with 4 year olds. The idea of the game was to find matches with the Memory cards and place them on the Candyland board in no particular order. You flip the cards as fast as possible and as many times as you want since there are no turns. Once we had most of the matches on the board, Maikel takes the board and walks away with it. He returned a few minutes later, sets the board down, and walks off again. At this point, Valerie and I were working on putting more matches on her board to some other random game. When Maikel returned and opened his board back up, the contents had clearly shifted. He was shocked and immediately looked to us as if we’d done something. However, Valerie and I didn’t touch it. He asked “quien fue?” (who was it?). Valerie turned on me so fast, which was remarkable seeing as though she was with me the entire time. “Fue Ashley!” These two little 4 year olds were ganging up on me! I tried to explain that it wasn’t me and I didn’t touch it. I also tried to explain that all the cards moved when he moved the board, but they weren’t having it. As if to end the argument and be done with it, Maikel slowly said “fue usted” (it was you) with an emphasis on the usted, slight head tilt and dead serious facial expression. It was moderately terrifying. Nothing more was said.

I’ve been having a lot of internet issues in my classroom recently. Everyday, I use my laptop to get on youtube and access songs in order to do the preschool program. Often times, I will joke with the little kids when the song freezes that Cosmo the dog or Pin Pon doesn’t want to sing today. One day, we were singing El Sapo and it froze in the middle. I asked “que pasó?” and usually they will always yell “se pegó!” (it’s stuck, or frozen), but on this day, Valerie responded “se murió!” That means he died. She definitely caught me off guard a little bit.

Last Friday, we held our midyear education rewards parties for all the kids in our program here. Sometimes I am so busy coordinating events like this and making sure everything runs smoothly that I don’t always get a lot of time to participate and truly just enjoy the kids. We had a team here last week that was helping with the parties so I made sure that I took this opportunity to spend time with the children. We rented not one, but two bounce houses for the parties. This was a special treat as we normally only do this at Christmastime. Most of my little kids from the preschool program were invited to the morning party. After a few minutes, I decided I was going into the bounce house with them. I yelled “ya vengo!” (I’m coming) and I jumped on in. They were so excited that I got in there with them that they were chanting my name and squealing with delight. They were just being kids in their most natural form. They could never know how wonderful that makes me feel to share those kinds of moments with them.

One of the little girls in the bounce house was Rebecca. She has been in the preschool program since I started helping Laura with it when I got here last year. I don’t know that I have ever seen her smile. There is no exaggeration in that statement. She is the most serious and sad child I have ever met. Her mother has a lot of psychological problems and perhaps the instability has trickled down and affected her in ways that we’ll never know. But last Friday, I saw her smile in the bounce house. It was one of those things that was so natural and without thought. Albeit brief, it did in fact take place and I was lucky enough to witness it.

Yesterday, I was helping Valeria with an English presentation on superheroes. I like art and can be pretty creative, so I often end up doing all the artistic aspects of these projects. Plus, Valeria hates to draw and color. She had to create a superhero and come up with their super powers and values. Andrew was all over this project. These two were scheming up all kinds of stuff for Valeria’s superhero, the Splash. Being the one to sketch all this out, I finally stopped them and said, “Are you crazy? How am I supposed to draw all of this?” Valeria’s English has gotten so good that it’s scary sometimes. She simply turned to me and said, “Oh Ashley, we know you have your limits,” as if to calmly sooth my worries over this elaborate drawing. This child is growing up way too fast.

I love all of these little moments with the kids that I experience here!

 

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 1:31 am
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Well, this is embarrassing. I started writing this blog post three weeks ago while still in the US on vacation. I’ve been so busy with teams in the last few weeks that I am just now getting around to catching up the blog. Today is a holiday here in Costa Rica, something about the annexation of Guanacaste. If it gives me a day off, I’m OK with it!

I must say, while I love the US dearly and feel extremely blessed to have been born there, I think one of the most worthwhile experiences of my entire life has been living abroad. It’s a sad fact that most Americans don’t know what the rest of the world is like. Doesn’t that feel a bit naive? Or worse, ignorant? Devastating? Tragic? I could just go on and on but I’ll stop with “all of the above.” It sure is hard to hear things in the news and form opinions on what’s happening in the world when you have no idea what it’s really like outside of the United States of America. I hardly say any of these things to put myself in some self-cast all-knowing position above everyone else. Without even trying, my eyes have been opened to so many things in the last year. Things that I previously had an opinion on that I probably wasn’t even slightly qualified or educated enough about to have. Most recently, someone asked us if we had changed our view on immigration. I will preface this by saying we couldn’t be more opposite on so many of our political views, yet somehow, I found myself pondering the question that had been asked. There are some questions or statements that people pose that I think we’d just as soon not have come up. Things we’d rather not be forced to think about. But the question is in fact a valid one. After a year of working in a community of primarily Nicaraguans, some legal and some not so legal, what do I now think of immigration? I don’t exactly have an exact, black and white answer for you. I’ve somewhat entered into this very interesting shade of gray that if I had to put words to, would probably say it depends

I liken the situation here in Bajo Tejares, as well as Costa Rica in general, to similar happenings in the US with Mexicans. At one time, I think most people probably thought it was a good idea to welcome the Nicaraguans as cheap labor and an asset to the economy and country of Costa Rica. Somewhere along the way, it shifted to more of a burden and didn’t work out like everyone had hoped. The Nicaraguans are without a doubt looked down upon here. They are second class citizens and the attitudes of true Costa Ricans reflect that. Every time a volunteer or group comes to the mission, I find myself giving the same spiel to them about the community and the residents. What I find myself saying by the end of it is, I don’t really care what your views on immigration are, these are human lives we are talking about. I like the Declaration of Independence and the language that is used in it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I think somewhere along the way, one of two things happened. It’s quite possible that people stopped believing that all men are created equal. Or it’s possible that we’ve become so far displaced from the situation that it’s no longer real to us. I never once had any connection to any kind of immigration issue in the US. My grandparents and father are immigrants from the Ukraine. They came over legally and followed all the proper procedures to become citizens of the United States. But they were very lucky in have support to do so. Until moving here, I’ve never met an illegal immigrant. Now, I’m undoubtedly surround by illegal immigrants. It’s hard for me to see it that way though. What I see are the children here that I love. I see their parents who would do whatever it takes to give their children a better life than what they had growing up. I see people that would risk it all to give their family a chance.

I had no idea what it took to become a legal resident of Costa Rica before moving here. After all, I leave every 90 days and remain on a tourist visa. But after discussing the process with many people at this point, I now understand it can be a real nightmare. A real, expensive nightmare. I think most people just get stuck. They came to Costa Rica for a better life than what they had or could have in Nicaragua. They are doing the best they can here but can still rarely provide enough for their family. How do you save up for everything you need to get a piece of paper that says you can legally live here and put food on the table for your children? Since you have no idea how to manage all of that, you can now spend your days living in fear that you’ll be deported.

This living abroad deal has taught me a lot. I’ve had to rethink several things that I thought I knew. As I said, I still don’t have an answer to this particular issue. I do know that when it becomes personal, it changes that black and white answer real quick. I can no longer give an outright opinion on it without thinking of the friends I have here that struggle with this personally. I’m too invested. What I can stand by is that everyone is born with certain unalienable rights, given to us by the One who gives life. I believe in those rights.

 

Exposed July 25, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 7:54 pm
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We have been especially fortunate recently to have welcomed several wonderful teams and volunteers to the mission. That is part of what I love about doing this job is meeting people from all over the world who have the desire to serve others. Everyone has a different story and background. I always think it’s so interesting to hear why people are here, what made them come, and how it has changed them.

There is a volunteer here currently named Amanda and she has impressed me beyond measure. Amanda is originally from Alabama, but now resides in New York. She went to undergrad at the Baptist College of Florida and has a B.A. in Christian Counseling. She then went on to Mercy College in NY to get her Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling. Amanda recently quit her job in NY where she specialized in family therapy and worked with victims of domestic violence, in order to take that experience abroad and do similar work in areas like Bajo Tejares. She has the desire to work with women and address issues like anger, self-esteem, depression, and parenting. Many people have noticed or commented that the vast majority of people who come to the mission to serve primarily want to work with children. After all, we do offer an ideal environment for volunteers and teams wanting to work with children. This summer, we are having a drastic increase in teams who want to take part in the nightly ministries and work with the different groups of people here. I know the other groups like men, women, and youth highly appreciate that attention. Outside of that, we can’t exactly control the fact that most people want to work with children. So to have a volunteer like Amanda who is unbelievably equipped and trained to work with a different group like the women, and have the exact desire to do so, is incredible. Not to mention, she is here for three months!

Amanda immediately introduced herself to the women’s group on her first Monday evening here. They were extremely receptive to her and what she had to say. She set up a schedule of group sessions and has a dozen women signed up and consistently coming to these sessions where she is covering a variety of topics. In addition to two group sessions a day for three days a week, she is doing a considerable amount of individual counseling sessions. I’m blown away by the time she is putting into this, I would guess it’s easily 30+ hours a week. She takes it very seriously and is visibly passionate about transforming the lives of the women in Bajo Tejares. The women seem eager to get help too. For far too long, I think this group has felt over-burdened, under-appreciated, and perhaps like they are fighting a losing battle. They feel stupid, ugly, like they’re not worth anything. In the first week of sessions, Amanda told me that five women revealed suicidal thoughts and tendencies to her. She has been helping them with the idea of ‘safety planning’ for when those thoughts come about to make them feel more empowered on how to handle them in what feels like a hopeless situation. I can’t express how amazing it is to have a volunteer here who is qualified to do this and would rather be doing absolutely nothing else in the world right now.

Amanda and I had the most interesting conversation on the work we’re both doing and the mindset we seem to share. One of the points that came up in our conversation was how huge it was to expose people to a world they have never seen or experienced. I wear many hats here, but one of them that is as important as the rest, one that people may not even recognize, is how much effort is put into exposing people’s minds to this community, this level of poverty, the change that is taking place, the change that needs to take place, the ways people can be a part of it and help, and so on. I give countless tours and talk to many people about this community and the mission’s work in this community. So often, people often comment that they just had no idea this was what life was like in a place like this. Very few Americans have seen third world slums, true slums. Maybe most of Bajo Tejares doesn’t look like the slums it once was, but it’s still remarkably eye opening. I took a group down to Larry’s Village last week to see the homes I call “wooden boxes.” We went into Karla’s house and you can literally walk from one end of the house to the other in four seconds. When I explained how many people lived in that little wooden box of a house, I am certain it came as a surprise to most. Karla, Andres, their three children, and Karla’s mother. Sometimes I think about life in the US and compare it directly to Karla’s life here. She has always meant a lot to me since she moved to Bajo Tejares four years ago and we met shortly thereafter. My kitchen is almost the size of her entire house. Three years ago, Andrew and I bought our “little” house and I remember longing for granite countertops, along with a million other improvements. What I would spend on granite countertops would easily feed their family for a year and likely cover most of their other expenses as well. They could save every penny earned in an entire year and not be able to afford to put granite countertops in my kitchen.

I use the example of granite countertops not to make anyone feel guilty that has them. It’s just one way for me to put it into perspective for myself. If you’re fortunate enough, there’s a switch that takes place in what you see and value in life after being exposed to such things though. Amanda mentioned in our conversation that she could very well make a lot of money in her profession but she could never be content in just that. She’d rather be ‘poor’ by US standards and be traveling the world doing things like this. It so reminded me of my own story. As many people who know me are already aware, I left a good job in investment banking. I had this pretty path in front of me that felt like a fast track up the corporate ladder. Walking away from that surprised a lot of people. But my perspective has changed in such a way that I could never go back to something that wouldn’t allow me the freedom to go out experience the world and do things like this. I’m not saying I won’t go back into the world of finance, but I won’t ever let it lock me into a path that I can’t get out of. I’m not going to let any job control me. Amanda was able to point something out to me that I had kind of thought about before but couldn’t put into words. We talked back and forth about what we’d both do when we left Costa Rica and what the plans were for the future. She said to me, do the job that’s going to let you live this kind of life because living life this way makes you happy. That really hit the nail on the head for me. The job I have in the future will probably never be the kind that defines me. I don’t fault anyone for being wealthy and successful. I just think that at one time, I was sure that I would be that person. Somewhere along the way, I stopped needing to be that person. Don’t get me wrong, we need people to be unbelievably successful and generous beyond belief to fund much of the change that will take place in this world. But we also need people to agree to go and do it and understand that they probably will never be among the rich. Part of the responsibility of those of us out in the mission field, staring down the problems of this world each and every day, is to expose the rest of the population to it. Amanda mentioned to me that it was difficult for her to be a part of some of the small changes and differences being made when you could see how much more has yet to be done. I can relate to that. But I also know that I can’t change it all. Maybe if everyone feels the needs as deeply as we do, sees it with their own eyes or even just through ours, we’ll be able to change the world together.