Wednesday morning was a highlight. We visited Ninos con Bendicion (Children with Blessing), a small organisation run by the delightful couple Lesbi and Tino in the nearby village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. I had heard a great deal about this visit and was full of anticipation.
Nancy Hoffman, who had been my go-to person for all the on the ground travel arrangements in Guatemala, collected us in a mini bus full of American families. It was lovely to meet her in person after exchanging so many emails and "knowing" her on the Guatemalan Adoption "Big List" for many, many years.
A highlight of the drive was seeing Volcan de Feugo, burping smoke into the clouds. It is the most active volcano in the immediate vicinity, last erupting in 2007.
As we drove the short distance to San Antonio Nancy gave a brief introduction about "Ninos" and about the work they were doing there. Lesbi and Tino run it from their home. Currently they have 17 children who participate in the program. They are offered quality education in a private school, after school support, a hot meal each day and the opportunity to strengthen their cultural ties.
They fundraise by teaching the children traditional dances and music which they perform for visitors such as ourselves. Currently the children range in age from 7 to 15.
When we first arrived we had another introduction and then the children came out individually, introduced themselves and told us the area from which their particular traditional costume came. The older children did their introductions in English, as that is one of the subjects they are learning.
The first song was their own special "Ninos con Bendicion" anthem and I have to say it was hard to see through the tears. The children are just beautiful, performing in the way that children do... with giggles and sideways glances at each other. It took a lot of self control not to bawl my eyes out; I didn't think that would be a good response to such joy and optimism. The older children kept an eye on the younger ones and in the background Lesbi and Tino kept an eye on the whole proceeding. I have to say my personal favourite was the little dance I like to call "Romance, Guatemalan Style" (otherwise known as La Pedida) - precious!
After the performances were over we were told about the beautiful weaving Lesbi does (and obviously teaches the girls to do). This town in particular is famous for the double sided weaving and it is lovely indeed. Of course there were lots of items to buy to support this group... but first the tortillas.
We were taken over to Lesbi's outdoor kitchen and the tortilla making process was explained. The drying of the corn (there are four varieties commonly used: white, yellow, black and red), the removal of the corn from the husk, the grinding, the boiling (or it might be boiling, then grinding), then the milling which is done at a central mill outside the home. This paste is brought home and further refined on the stone in a process Lesbi made look very simple but which was actually quite difficult (at least to do neatly and properly).
This refined paste, in our case a blue-grey colour due to blue and red corn being used, is shaped into balls and then flattened between dampened hands to produce a tortilla. Lesbi produces an average of 300 each day to feed the children and family. Get your head around that number next time you're complaining about throwing dinner together. The tortillas are then cooked on a large flat dish which is heated (a lot) over a bbq with an open flame. I'm not sure but I think this stove might be going all day.
It's immodest of me to say but I may have won the unofficial tortilla making competition because when Nancy saw mine she called Lesbi over and they both admired it (or silently laughed at it, I prefer to think they were admiring). While the tortillas were cooking we shopped at their little stall. Will played soccer with the boys which made him a very happy little Vegemite.
We were then served up the tortillas (obviously the evenly shaped ones made by Lesbi previously) with the most delicious black beans and green chili sauce. That chili sauce is addictive, just the right amount of heat with a little kick - so good!
This is an instance of good people doing good work, plain and simple. There is a simple but special quality about Lesbi and Tino. I could feel Jay and Tino (who is obviously a carpenter by the tools and half finished work in his workshop) form a silent bond.
The cost (per year) is US$300 to put a child through primary school, US$450 for high school and US$400-$1200 to put an exceptional girl through higher education. I am just putting it out there. What do you spend $300 on? How much of a difference can that money make to a child's life? If there's a little spare cash burning a hole in your pocket email Nancy - NancyinAntigua@yahoo.com and she'll help channel that money into something very useful.
When the time comes to go I don't really want to. There is a lovely warm atmosphere at this place which just makes me want to hang out. We emerge onto the street and there is a procession going past so we are "trapped" for a while. We watch the procession; each one we've seen is similar yet different, each has it's own quirkiness. A helado (ice cream) vendor rolls up and while I'm getting the children an ice block each (abour 60 cents each) I get a brain wave and ask for one each for all the Ninos (17 of them), plus Lesbi and Tino (who would never ask for themselves), plus the shy toddler of the family next door. One of the other families on the tour go halves with us and suddenly we have one happy helado vendor. It the simple things in life and it was a small joy to watch these beautiful children enjoy a tiny treat our children take very much for granted.
Finally the procession ends and we say our goodbyes. We head home but a little bit of our hearts stay at Ninos con Bendicion.