By Becky Spachek, evaluation specialist for Unbound
Becky Spachek is an evaluation specialist for Unbound in Kansas City. She recently traveled to Guatemala to visit sponsored friends and their families in their homes to learn about their experiences with sponsorship to better understand how their economic reality is impacted by the program. Becky describes a day on her trip in this blog post.
By Becky Spachek, evaluation specialist for Unbound
6 a.m. The alarm on my phone rings. After a half-warm, half-cold shower, Melissa Velazquez, senior evaluation specialist at Unbound, and I head down to the hotel lobby. There we meet Carmen, Unbound’s coordinator for the Chimaltenango region in Guatemala, and Benjamin, our driver for the day and for getting us to breakfast at Guatemala’s fast-food chain, Pollo Campero.
During our breakfast we discuss the World Cup and Benjamin’s birthday. I ask how he will celebrate, and he jokingly responds that he will celebrate by driving us around, but then more seriously mentions his wife will prepare him a nice meal for dinner.
8 a.m. Thanks to Benjamin’s capable driving Carmen, Melissa and I arrive as scheduled at the regional office. Willy, the regional coordinator for Chimaltenango, leads a morning prayer and a brief reflection. Melissa and I then meet with the social workers, who brief us on the day’s schedule. They’ve organized home visits to a random sample of Unbound sponsored friends and their families.
The social workers, Carmen, Melissa and I all pile into the van and head out for the first visit of the day. The van bumps along an unpaved road full of potholes, winding up a green hillside. Benjamin is listening to the World Cup games on the radio as he drives. Melissa and I review the family records while the social workers make phone calls to confirm our visits.
9:30 a.m. After a 45-minute drive, Benjamin parks the van next to a foot path. He has driven us as far as he can. We must walk the rest of the way to the family’s house. The mother leader in charge of the area meets us at the end of the path.
On our walk, a social worker jokingly comments that many mothers group leaders are the Unbound-Guatemalan “GPS.” They have extensive knowledge of the community. They act as our community guides, showing us the way and protecting us from the dogs that run loose, to ensure that we arrive safely at the family’s house.
We follow the mothers group leader down a steep road as we pass by a school. Boys are playing soccer in a field. Young girls stop in the path and stare at me as I walk past. I wave to them. They giggle and wave back.
9:45 a.m. We arrive at a one-room adobe home. A family of eight lives here. Inside are two queen-sized beds, a small table and a dresser. The floor is dirt and the kitchen is outside, made from adobe and wood pallet walls with a zinc roof. I notice a wood-burning stove and a stone to grind corn for tortillas. The sponsored child’s three younger siblings stop playing when they see us arrive and begin to watch. The social worker greets the mother and introduces me to her.
She offers me a plastic stool to sit, and we chat about her life, her children and her child’s sponsor.
I explain the purpose of our visit — learning about her experience with Unbound to better understand how their economic reality is impacted by the program.
I ask the mother questions, some deeply personal, in regard to her family’s challenging economic situation. She is honest and vulnerable in her answers.
Her husband spends six days a week working the fields as a day laborer. Their entire income is spent on food for the family. If there is no field work for her husband, she goes to the market to trade cloth she weaves for corn to make tortillas so her family may eat.
She shows me a brightly colored, floral patterned cloth she wove by hand. Her talent is evident. She says each cloth takes her six months to complete, and then she can sell the cloth in the market for several hundred quetzals (one quetzal equals about 12 cents). The money she makes from selling the cloth helps fund her children’s educations.
No room exists in the family’s budget for extra expenses. Last year her youngest child fell ill. Unable to pay for medicine, she took a loan from a neighbor. Her family is making sacrifices to make monthly payments and is slowly pay off the loan.
Although her child has only been in the sponsorship program several months, she is grateful. The benefits her family receives take pressure off of the daily expenses. She jokes that as a mother of four boys she is particularly grateful for the laundry soap. Vegetables are starting to grow outside her home from the seeds she received as part of her son’s sponsorship benefits.
10:30 a.m. I take several photos of the family and thank the mother for welcoming me into her home and sharing her family’s story with me. She gives me a sample of her weaving as a symbol of her gratitude. My group heads back to the car where Benjamin provides us with an updated score of the World Cup game. The social worker makes a phone call to confirm our next visit and we drive off, on our way to visit nine more families.
7 p.m. Together our group visited 10 families this day. We wind around the hills of central Guatemala and head back to the hotel. A social worker points out the window to a volcano puffing smoke. Melissa snaps a photo as we pass.
We pick up dinner to go from Pollo Campero before we arrive at the hotel. Melissa and I head up the stairs to our room where we eat, call our families and check email. We have more families to visit tomorrow. We review and organize the information we gathered until we fall asleep.
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