On June 3, 2018, Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego erupted – that’s Chi Q’aq’ in Kaqchikel, which means “where the fire is.” The eruption affected over 1.7 million people, 3,100 evacuated, and 194 perished – 260 remain missing.
Hood Digest put out a call, and our community showed up big time.
We had issues with the GoFundMe page who froze the money for nearly three months. This incident caused our original plan to fall through the cracks. But, we didn’t give up and are proud to share with you that we successfully delivered on our goal of helping those families back in the motherland.
The good news is that those still suffering the aftermath genuinely welcomed the aid. It’s now been six months since the eruption, and nearly all the external assistance has stopped.
Earlier this December, I traveled to the lush hills of GuateMaya. One of the largest deposits of beautiful, intelligent people – and one of the most important centers of civilization. In contrast to mesmerizing scenery and culture, forgotten in the footsteps of El Volcán de Fuego, over 350 families are living in shelters in the small town of Alotenango.
Thanks to our good friends at Lets. Give, I made contact with Jennifer Aristondo, who was the real MVP. Jennifer and her mother Luz have been donating their time helping families since the eruption happened. Jennifer and Luz know the needs of the community and their deepest needs – which is how we developed the list of supplies that we bought with your money.
Before I tell you about what we bought, let me share two stories that deeply impacted me during this trip.
First, before arriving at the shelter, I learned that some of the shelter leaders and churches were giving aid and funds to people who were not directly affected by the volcano. Obvi I was upset upon learning this and asked myself why people would take advantage of this? After a moment of frustration, I reminded myself that this town is impoverished and that 60% of Guatemalan workers earn about $6.00 per day – indigenous workers receive even less than that.
Of course, we committed to helping those impacted by the volcano, and my responsibility was to deliver on our promise to you. Yes, we have to hold these foos accountable, “the problem ain’t the gang. It’s the situation in the communities..”
Second, when arriving in the town of Alotenango, the volcano was erupting. I was in the pickup truck wondering why we weren’t turning around. Of course, I’ve been socialized to think that I am brave and that I have to be a “man” and be fearless in situations like this. Instead of saying something courageous, I nervously asked: “So what is happening now?” Luz explained that small eruptions had been a constant since June 3rd, so we continued on our path.
Driving in, I was shocked by how many children played at the entrance of the facility. The rows of wooden shelters providing minimal shade in which mother stood cradling their babies, hiding from the scorching sun. As we were unloading and setting up, women and children started to routinely line-up, staff announced our arrival through their PA system, what seemed like a never-ending amount of brown faces began to pour out of the rooms.
Each family received a hygiene kit containing rolls of toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, sanitary pads, towels, soap, cleaning supplies, and food packages. Families with toddlers also received blankets, baby wipes, and diapers. Teenage kids received shoes and sandals; We gave children Crocs and Christmas gifts. After several hours we finished passing out the donations. We walked through the facility, talking to families, and getting to know peoples stories.
We gave a portion of the donation money to families like Ruth’s: mother of four who was strong and kind enough to share her story with us. She lost her two eldest sons and their family home. Days after the eruption, a doctor diagnosed her son with heart disease.
18-year-old Pedro who was left paralyzed in a childhood accident and whose father is struggling to pay medical bills.
Rosy – 26-year-old mother of three whose husband was left blind from one eye and has not been able to find a job that hires him with his condition.
Baby Esperanza who was born at a shelter two days after the eruption and many more.
Thank you to all those who donated, I applaud, and encourage and acts of love such as these. I appreciate you all for coming together and helping in a desperate time. I was honored and privileged to step into this community, and I am grateful for this life-changing experience. Nonetheless, here is some real shit I could not help and ponder. What will happen to these families when the aid stops? What resources will they receive? How will their trauma be addressed?
– Berny Orantes
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin … It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr