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Ravine Community Program Helps Guatemalans become Better Parents
by Christine Bolaños
Posted on Tuesday, April 04, 2017
Located in the central highlands of Guatemala, the city of Chimaltenango serves as a market center and transportation hub for residents of surrounding rural villages. Most people work as farmers, artisans or merchants. Families spend long days and sometimes as many as 14 hours picking up garbage in the trash dump to make just a few dollars a day. Many times young mothers will carry their infant children on their backs all day because they have nowhere to leave them during the day, exposing them to potentially dangerous toxins.

Orphan Outreach refers to the garbage dump as “The Ravine” because of its geographic similarity to a ravine. There, workers pick up recyclable items from the culvert of trash. The parents may be poor and tired but they have the same dreams any good parent does: better opportunities and lives for their children. Their participation in Orphan Outreach’s Ravine Community Program is helping strengthen families in these highly vulnerable communities.

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“We have a core of 40 families, and over half of those work in the city dump,” says Dan Ucherek, who along with his wife Christi, oversees the program.

Many of the families live in small, corrugated metal homes that lack concrete floors. The program offers a series of classes and workshops aimed at helping parents become more self-sustaining both emotionally and financially.

Services include workshops that help parents learn to interact more effectively with their children as well as basic but essential knowledge such as proper nutrition.

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The Community Care Center launched in January 2016 with an after-school program;  opportunities for parents and families soon followed. The initial program was a sewing course that taught mothers how to sew. Crosses stitched from fabric were then be sold to groups in Dallas by Orphan Outreach staff during the holiday season. The project provided some much-needed extra income for the families while providing those interested the tools to begin their entrepreneurship efforts.

“When we look at programs for the parents we’re really looking to give them any sort of tool in the toolbox to grow themselves,” Dan says.

He hopes to expand to even more programs this year, including a cooking course, where parents learn to make small raised garden beds and grow various vegetables and herbs. Parents also expressed interest in a cosmetology course.

Though most parents would not necessarily be interested in starting a cosmetology career, Dan says the knowledge would help them cut their own hair and their children’s, effectively saving them money in the long-run.

“Women interested in doing that for a living could pick up that skill and then do that to earn some money and start a business as well,” he says.

The goals may seem more like ambitious dreams, but Dan says the key is to take the process slowly.

“A lot of these parents may not know how to read and write so we’re starting with those basic tools and moving on from there,” he says.

Parents will have the opportunity to take a reading and writing course and earn a diploma upon successful completion.

“All staff at the center are Guatemalans and they are teaching these courses,” Dan says. The nine staff members include a community outreach director, a facilitator, guards, teachers and an educational advisor, all of whom hail from Chimaltenango.

“All are Christians and all have a heart to serve their people,” Dan says. “One of the things a few of them said to me is that they didn’t realize the type of need around them and in their community until they started working with us.”

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Dan sees the difference the program makes on the families every day, including medical outreach. One recent experience that comes to mind is that of a 10-year-old boy who has kidney failure.

“Our staff has been able to come alongside the family as a whole, in helping to provide in any way we can through this hard time,” he says. Staff has also begun offering psychological evaluations.

“That has been really helping the parents in dealing with their children and some aspects their children are going through,” Dan says. “These children come from hard places and hard family so it makes an impact in doing these tests and giving parents some guidance in how they help their kids.”

He envisions bible study classes as well as more programs aimed at fathers.

“We have some contacts in local churches and we’d love to get the pastors and congregations involved, in hopes these families will eventually attend the churches the volunteers come from,” Dan says.

He would also like to see a nursery installed for the mothers who work out in the ravine.

WOW helps make the vision a reality

Tiffany Taylor Wines is one of the founding members of Women for Orphans Worldwide and marketing director for Orphan Outreach. WOW is an auxiliary organization supporting the Community Care Center where the Ravine Community Program takes place.

It was started by a group of thirteen mothers and daughters who went to Guatemala in 2009. All the daughters were in middle school. Little did they know they would feel such a strong calling they would return year after year and hold an annual luncheon to raise funds for the programs Orphan Outreach supports.

“Now, there are hundreds of members,” Tiffany says. “This summer there will be seven WOW mission trips to Guatemala.”

She said the experiences empower youth to make a difference in a developing country throughout every stage and before the trip even starts. The teenagers are responsible for raising funds for the trips and can include bake sales, car washes, garage sale and T-shirt sales. Proceeds are also used as needed for orphans in Guatemala.

Wine remembers when she and the group first heard of the families who worked at the garbage dump.

“We were just blown away,” Tiffany shares. “They were digging through trash and doing anything they could to sustain their families. They were sweet and kind and just so thankful for everything. Since that time, we’ve built a relationship with the families.”

WOW members know the Guatemalans by name.

 

“We know they work really hard to make sure their children are receiving access to education,” Tiffany says. She still recalls the first time she saw babies and toddlers at the ravine.

“There’s trash everywhere,” Wine says. “We realized those parents desperately want to change their lives. They are anxious for resources so their kids can go to school and improve their lives.”

The women were so moved by the people of Chimaltenango they immediately felt connected to them.

“We’re just a bunch of moms who always want the best for our kids,” Tiffany says. “They too are parents who want the same for their families but didn’t have access because of extreme poverty. We realized we needed to do a comprehensive program to help meet those needs.”

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Those needs can include anything from school uniforms to books to medicine.

She echoed Dan’s comments about the parents wanting to be self-sustaining.

“We look at how we can help them achieve a better life and break the cycle of poverty. These are generations of people digging through trash and we are helping them dig their way out of that life.”

WOW has helped Orphan Outreach provide families with clean air stoves and water filters, a library with Spanish books, a music room, a computer lab, uniforms, clothes and more.

“We’re seeing the fruits of the work we’re putting into the community,” she shares. “Children are succeeding in school and making good grades. Some of the parents who used to have to work in the dump have now gone on to start their own small business. They never thought this possible before. They’re seeing their children healthier and growing stronger.”

Lisa Browning, a volunteer and Women for Orphans Worldwide member, was instrumental in working with Orphan Outreach on the fabric cross initiative and is working with the Guatemala team on new ideas.

“I was definitely affected by the community and fell in love with them,” shares. “Without question, they’re amazing and have respect for one another and such an incredible faith.”

Lisa got involved with the effort four years ago, when her daughter expressed interest in joining her friends and their mothers on a mission trip. The ladies continue to be involved.

One thing Lisa is cautious about is earning trust from the Guatemalans and helping them when and how they want to be helped.

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“It’s a challenge to help in the way a person wants to be helped versus the way we think they want to be helped,” she says. “You finally start to learn what are those needs and that they are looking for a desire for those needs to be met.”

She echoed Wine’s comments about how these parents just want the best for their children like any parents do.

“They have the same joy in their hearts and the same struggles we do,” she says. “They handle it all with such amazing dignity and grace.”

Strengthening families to keep them together

The bottom line, Dan says, is the Ravine Community Program helps families strengthen their bonds and stay together.

“That’s why these programs coming up for the parents are so important,” he says, “so they can provide a living for their families and things like Bible Study and church involvement will hopefully keep their families and relationships strong.”

Stronger and healthier families pave the wave for less orphans in Guatemala. That, in essence, is Orphan Outreach’s vision: a world with less orphans and happier home lives.

There are a number of ways you can be part of the Community Care Center and the Ravine Community Program. Join us on a mission trip, sponsor a child, or partner with us in sustaining ministry opportunities!

 

 


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