When I travel places, I always keep an eye out for the toys of children. What gives them joy at play? Do they like the same sorts of things my children like? No matter where one goes in the world, there seem to be some universials: riding toys like the one pictured (with volcanic ash all over the ground), a wheel and stick in Africa, kites flying over Haiti.
The little girl pictured lives in Amatitlan in the area known as El Salitre, a shanty town that sprung up after the railroad failed. Housing projects cannot be started here because the people do not own the land. In fact, the government does not have control of the land because it leased it to the railroad. For the next 20 years, whether or not the railroad builds a line or not, the government's hands are tied. In the meantime, people live in a shanty town along the rail-line for about 1 1/2 miles long and 1/4 mile wide. Five hundred shacks with families sometimes of fifteen living in 100 square feet or less. The people living in this shanty town live here because they cannot afford to live in Guatemala City. There are no easy solutions to the problem.
The girl pictured has four surviving siblings of fifteen. Her mother bakes flour tortias on a stone (coal, wood, etc) fired oven. Last fall she lost to relatives: her mother's baby and her fourteen year old sister's baby, both of whom died of lung infections.
Into this seemingly hopeless situation, the Lutheran Church in Guatemala established a medical mission called Santa Cruz (Holy Cross). Basic medical care is provided for less than $1 (less than the price of a beer). Cheap alcohol exaserbates the problems in El Salitre, increasing poverty, teen pregnancy, and health problems. Through this mission, the church provides Christian instruction like that mentioned by Rev. Hernandez, namely, that when death comes I will live with Jesus.
The little girl pictured was hopeful. She took out her school notebook and showed us how she could write "momma." She has received basic medical treatment from the Santa Cruz clinic and has heard about her Savior from the people of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala.
Rev. Hernandez and I came to visit Amatitlan and El Salitre in particular because this area was affected by the volcano and the tropical storms. The volcanic dust mixed with the rain to make falling mud. The tin roofs of this shanty town could not withstand the weight of volcanic mud. The river that flows near by literally turned to mud. As a result, an assessment team from LCMS World Relief and Human Care was invited down (Carlos and me) to see how we might provide assistance from America.
Rev. Albert B Collver, Ph.D.
Executive Pastoral Assistant
LCMS World Relief and Human Care