Guest Author: Tammy Orahood

Last week, I shared the story of how Andy and I came to adopt Henry, now 10, and Franklin, now 7, from Guatemala when they were infants.

Orahood boys - sports uniforms Orahood boys - fish pond Orahood boys - Halloween

Orahood boys - dressed upLearning about Guatemalan culture and helping my boys develop a strong cultural identity is very important to me.

From the start, I had visions of raising them bilingually. Even though I studied Spanish in college, I am nowhere near fluent. Still, my limited Spanish has come in handy in communicating with our foster family in Guatemala.

We started Spanish lessons for Henry when he was a toddler, but that quickly became overshadowed by the need to focus on speech therapy for him so he could learn English. Franklin has started taking Spanish after school somewhat grudgingly.

I bought Guatemalan cookbooks and tried to cook authentic foods. The chuchitos (small tamales) that I made for Henry’s first birthday were a bit of a disaster, but hopefully it’s the thought that counts.

When we moved to St. Louis, we actively sought out a more diverse urban community so that the boys would not be the only children of color in their school like they were in Indiana.

When the time was right, I knew we would want to go back to Guatemala so the boys could learn first-hand about their birth culture and reconnect with some important people in their lives.

Visiting Guatemala:

I am very excited that after 8 years, we are finally going back to Guatemala this summer!

We are going with a group of other adoptive families to explore Guatemala City, the ancient Spanish capital of Antigua and the gorgeous Lake Atitlan.

The entire trip is arranged by Nancy Hoffman, an American who now lives in Guatemala and owns a travel agency to help those wanting to travel to Guatemala.

Over the years, we’ve been able to keep in touch with the boys’ foster family and our in-country facilitator via email and Facebook. We are excited to be able to reconnect in person.

Luis, our in-country facilitator, tragically died of cancer a few years ago leaving behind a wife and 5 children in a country with no safety net. We sponsor the education of 2 of his girls, one of whom also has cancer (Leukemia).

While in Panajachel, the city near the lake, we also plan to visit Mayan Families.

Mayan Families is a non-profit that helps the indigenous families in the highlands of Guatemala, known as the Maya.  Guatemala has the highest under age 5 mortality rate in all of Latin America, and the 4th highest malnutrition rate in the world.

Most people live on less than $2 a day and exist on tortillas and occasionally beans or rice. The extreme need is hard to imagine. School costs around $30 US a month and if you can’t pay you can’t go. When you earn $2 a day, you can see why school would be a luxury if it costs $30. You also can’t go to school if you don’t have shoes.

Mayan Families runs many programs in rural Guatemala, including a school sponsorship program that serves over 2400 students at all levels and 7 preschool nutrition centers. They also have numerous medical, dental, vision & veterinary clinics. Another successful project is the installation of hundreds of fuel efficient stoves into homes, helping reduce deforestation and cut down on respiratory ailments that results from cooking over wood burning fires. They have built and repaired schools, delivered aid to children and families during natural disasters and medical emergencies, and assist with day to day needs of orphans and elders.

Donate to Mayan Families:

While we have been sponsors the Luis’ daughters’ schooling, I want to do more.

I am planning on bringing down in-kind donations with us for Mayan Families.

The full list of what they need is extensive, but I was told the most desperate needs are rain gear, socks, underwear, sweaters for girls with buttons or a zipper (needed for girls who wear traditional clothing), medical supplies (ie ibuprofen, band aids etc.) and books in Spanish.

If anyone wants to donate, you can donate directly to Mayan families or you can contact me and I’ll take your things with me.

The stories of need are heartbreaking and it really makes me rethink whether I need that extra Starbucks knowing what $5 could do in the hands of an organization like Mayan Families.