Contributed by Emily Smith in Stories from the Field. Photos by Linnae Asiel.
In last week’s post, I had the pleasure of introducing you to Maritza, my three-year-old sponsored child in Guatemala. You heard about her family’s strength and struggles and about their belief in the change that comes over time. This week, I’d like to introduce you to another family. They live only a short distance from Maritza’s community. They share similar struggles and similar faith. But for this family, change was coming too slowly.
The dimly lit building hummed with people. Families, World Vision staff, and Child Ambassadors chatted and exchanged stories around a long table. Children were sprinkled throughout the group, drawing, giggling, the smaller ones being handed from adult to adult. In the midst of the pleasant bustle, a young woman walked to the front of the room. Conversations dropped off one by one as she introduced herself. Her name was Fabiola, and she had a story to tell.
Fabiola had traveled to Chiantla that day to share with the visiting Child Ambassador team, for she, too, was passionate about the future of her community’s children. As she shared about her volunteer work in a World Vision-supported children’s center, we could see the energy radiating from her. She’s one of those exceptional people whom I could never imagine sitting still for long. She has a mission, and she is a woman of action.
Just twelve months earlier, at age seventeen, Fabiola’s passion for the future had driven her to act decisively. She had grown worried for her two younger brothers and her sister. Across northern Guatemala, where Fabiola lives, small children die of preventable diseases; older children drop out of school to work family farms. Parents strive to change the cycle, but the remoteness of the region limits their access to opportunities. A better way forward seemed out of reach.
So Fabiola decided to reach farther. She had heard stories of jobs to the north. If she could make it across Mexico and into the US, she believed she’d be able to work and save up to help her siblings. Fabiola’s father discovered her plans and insisted it was far too dangerous for her to go alone. If she was determined to go, he was going with her.
Reaching the Threshold
As Fabiola began to relate the next phase of her story, I felt a quiet tapping at my hand. Maritza, who was standing next to me, was getting a little restless and had started carefully poking at a band-aid on my hand. When I looked down at her, she laughed and made a game of it — her sneakily trying to poke my hand, me silently pretending to try to escape her reach. When Maritza contentedly settled back to play with her mom’s scarf, I looked back up to the front of the room. In the few moments that had passed, Fabiola had continued her story. She had moved out of my line of sight, but I could see Rodrigo, our World Vision host, who was translating for her. The color had drained from his face.
Fabiola acknowledged that staying in the storage unit was hard, but that at least her family was together. On the eighth day, however, border authorities decided to send father and daughter to separate containment centers. Over the next two months, Fabiola would be shuffled to seven different locations, never knowing where her father was. A lawyer was sent to explain her situation to her, but the lawyer spoke only English. Fabiola knew just a handful of words in English. No one offered to translate for her. And she was not alone in her confusion. She recalled that at one center, she could hear the cries of younger children across the facility; worried that they were afraid, she asked if she could go comfort them. She was refused.
Immigration authorities eventually determined that Fabiola should be sent back home, and they put her on a plane to Guatemala City. But Fabiola is not from Guatemala City. Her home is far to the north, and having never been to the capital, she wasn’t sure exactly how far. Since her father’s release date had not been scheduled to coincide with hers, Fabiola arrived alone, in a strange city, with no idea how to get home.
Fabiola related her relief when a bus driver noticed her and realized that she was lost. She said that he gave her a little money and helped her find a way home. Two weeks later, her father arrived.
World Vision and the people of northern Guatemala are working to broaden their options, to implement change that will be safer and more sustainable than emigration. And their change can come sooner with your help. Today, in response to Fabiola’s experience, I have two challenges for you: one as a US citizen, one as a Child Ambassador.
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.