Posts Tagged ‘Mayan Families’

Semana Santa 2013. A visit with Olivia’s birth family

Friday, April 5th, 2013


This week, we met with Olivia’s birth family in Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan about three hours northwest of Antigua. The family—Olivia’s birth mother, “Ana”; her grandmother, Abuela, and her older brother and sister, now 18 and 16—traveled to Pana by bus from where they live in Totonicapan. Opinions around the subject of international adoption are mixed in Guatemala, ranging from supportive to very negative, so to protect Ana’s privacy we always meet in Pana, two hours from her town. (In small villages such as the one where they live, outsiders never pass unnoticed.) As you can see from the photo, Olivia is almost as tall as Ana, and about the same height as Abuela. Olivia had just turned seven the first year she met her family; next month she will be 11.

This meeting was a little different from our previous ones for two reasons: first, because my sister Patrice usually accompanies us on birth family visits and couldn’t this time. (We missed you, Tia!) And second, because Abuela’s shoulder was bothering her so much she couldn’t move her arm to do anything, including lift a fork to eat. The lightest touch caused her to wince with pain. Bear in mind, this is a woman who for decades has chopped firewood, hauled water, made tortillas, and washed thousands of loads of laundry by hand.

Olivia wanted to take a boat ride to another village on Lake Atitlan—she doesn’t like to feel conspicuous in “our” town of Panajachel—so we did. As usual, our first stop was to pray together in the town’s Catholic church, and may I just say that the faith and goodness of Olivia’s birth family absolutely humbles me.

Afterwards, we ate a nice lunch, over which we perused the photo albums from last year’s visit that I had assembled and brought. But none of us could ignore Abuela’s obvious suffering. Trying to ascertain the exact nature of the problem, I could make out the Spanish word for “bone,” although nothing about a fall or injury. As far as I could determine, a visit to their local clinic in Toto hadn’t revealed a root cause.

Long story short, I called Nancy Hoffman, my fellow adoptive mom who owns a travel agency in Antigua, and she said the desk clerk at our hotel knows a good doctor. Turned out he does: Dr. Luis de Pena, the physician who runs the clinic at Mayan Families, the NGO many of us adoptive families support, and where, in fact, I had been last month with Mateo, dropping off shoes donated by Olivia’s Girl Scout troop.

Our group clambered onto the next boat to Pana, piled off and into two tuk-tuks, and zipped up to Mayan Families.

After a physical exam, Dr. de Pena made a diagnosis: bursitis. If the injection he administered doesn’t work—he sent me out to buy the syringe from an NGO-subsidized pharmacy around the corner and two blocks down, “Fe, Salud y Vida”—and other causes are ruled out, Abuela may need surgery. This only can be performed in a hospital by an orthopedic surgeon, and in Guatemala, apparently, orthopedic surgeons’ numbers are few. If necessary, Abuela must travel to Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango.

Today’s report is that the pain has subsided somewhat. We’ll see.

What I appreciated most about this visit was how natural it felt. Abuela was in pain, and we did our best to help her feel better. That’s what family does, and we’re family.


From California to Guatemala, shoes to Mayan Families

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

For this year’s service project, Olivia’s Girl Scout troop decided to collect gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, as well as new school supplies, to donate to Mayan Families, an organization in Guatemala that serves mostly indigenous families in need who live in the Panajachel area around Lake Atitlan. Donating to Mayan Families was Olivia’s idea: in years past, we have carried down our own gently used items to give to Mayan Families, and Olivia has seen first-hand how appreciated the gifts are and how real the need. I’m proud of my daughter for lobbying to help an organization in her birth country, and thrilled and grateful that her fellow Scouts elected to sign on to the cause.

As it happened, Mateo, my sister Patrice and I were headed to Guatemala for a short visit, so we hauled the shoes ourselves. But for anyone else considering donating, check the Mayan Families website for information on which shipping companies to use, or how to join the Mayan Families Connection Yahoo group that sends large containers.

The photo above shows the shoes lined up in our dining room. Below are the suitcases which we carried from San Francisco to Antigua, and transported via shared shuttle bus to Panajachel. Once in Pana, and to Mateo’s delight, we took a tuk-tuk to Mayan Families headquarters; the driver and Mateo posed for a photo before handing over the suitcases to a Mayan Families staffer. Finally, co-director Sharon Smart arranged a photo shoot of the shoes and school supplies, and oversaw the making of the heart-shaped thank you note to Olivia’s Girl Scout leader and troop.

If your group is casting about for a service project, please consider collecting for the children served by Mayan Families. Find a list of desired supplies on the Mayan Families website. Truly, delivering shoes intended for kids who need them stands out as a highlight of our trip.

To everyone who donated, including our local Bay Area group of adoptive families, thank you, thank you! ~ xoxo




Guatemala, Guatemala. February 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Last Saturday, Mateo, my sister Patrice, and I arrived in my favorite place on earth, Antigua, Guatemala. It’s insane how much I love Antigua—the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the ring of volcanoes, the churches, the Square. We’ve been visiting Antigua since I fostered Olivia there in 2003, and every trip we discover something different. This time, we climbed Volcano Pacaya, an extraordinary adventure that deserves its own post, and will get one soon. We also spent two days at Lake Atitlan, my other favorite destination. Olivia’s Girl Scout troop collected some 75 pairs of gently used kids’ sneakers, soccer cleats, and shoes, which Mateo, Patrice, and I lugged down on the airplane, and hand-delivered to Mayan Families, an organization we support that serves indigenous families in the region. Pictures on that adventure to come, too.

This trip, we connected with three other adoptive families visiting Antigua, two with eight-year-old boys, and one with a younger girl. The girl’s family I had met virtually, through our mutual membership on an adoption listserve; I know the boys’ families through our local adoption group. I mention this as another benefit of forming adoption networks—when you visit Guatemala, you can meet up with friends. Mateo loved sharing meals and fun with all three kids. And let me tell you, for an active, eight-year-old boy, scaling Pacaya with two other active, eight-year-old boys qualifies as downright awesome.

The fabulous Nancy Hoffman, who has lived in Guatemala for more than a decade and is known to most of you reading this as the founder of, helped us with arrangements. If you’re planning to visit, contact her at and she’ll set you up.

The Saturday before we left, we visited friends who live in one of the small villages surrounding Antigua. After a lovely afternoon, on the way back to town, we passed local residents creating alfombras (carpets made of sawdust and various materials) outside their homes and businesses for the village’s Lenten procession later that night. The artists kindly indulged us by letting me take pictures while Mateo inspected their handiwork, delighted to take part in the local tradition.

Our trip consisted of dozens of such small, unexpected moments, which already have entered the realm of treasured memories. To me, those treasured memories are what give life meaning. I feel lucky to share them with my son Mateo, in his beautiful birth country of Guatemala.


Facebook friends, please vote to help the children of Guatemala

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I’ve posted before about two organizations our family has visited and supports in Guatemala: Mayan Families and Mission Guatemala. Another worthy group that works in the Lake Atitlan region is Amigos de Santa Cruz. Right now, all three are trying to win grants from Chase Community Giving, in a giveaway hosted by Chase on Facebook.

If you’re on Facebook, please help them succeed by following these simple directions to cast your vote. Voting ends Tuesday, November 22. So please act now!

Here’s a note from Sharon Smart-Poage of Mayan Families:

Chase Community Giving is giving money to 100 non-profits.
First place is $250,000.
2nd,3rd, 4th and 5th all receive $100,000.
…6th place through 100th place all will receive $25,000 each.

Each person gets 10 votes. Please vote for Mayan Families, Amigos de Santa Cruz, and Mission Guatemala. We work together, and can all win. (more…)



Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

An under-reported outcome of adopting from another country is the loyalty many families feel for the birth-country of their children, and the actions that result. I’m not talking about connections with birth and foster families, visits to former orphanages, and annual heritage trips, although each of those things is wonderful and to be recommended.

I’m talking about the financial contributions adoptive parents make to organizations that support families, children, and education. In Guatemala alone, there are dozens if not hundreds of such organizations that receive thousands of dollars in donations from families with children born in Guatemala. Mayan Families, Common Hope, Behrhorst, Orphan Resources International, Roots and Wings International, Guatemala Aid Fund, and Mission Guatemala are but a few of the many groups which do good work and receive funds from folks in the United States, including a large number of adoptive families. Pictured above are Dwight Poage, co-founder of Mayan Families, and a few members of his staff.

This dedication to birth country is by no means limited to families with children from Guatemala. Many Americans with children born around the world help when and where they can. Today, I ran across an article about a fundraiser in Knoxville, Tennessee for two organizations that raise money for orphans in Africa and elsewhere, Show Hope and Blood: Water Mission. In this online post, KnoxNews reports on international help efforts:

Blood:Water Mission, founded by the Christian band Jars of Clay, seeks to empower communities in Africa to work together against the two primary causes of children being orphaned: devastation caused by HIV and AIDS and sickness and death caused by contaminated water.

In January, board members of Kalu Grace Foundation and other Knoxvillians traveled to northern Kenya to witness the products that Blood:Water Mission has been able to implement with last year’s Hope in the Dark donations.

A water tank has been installed in the desert region of Marsabit, Kenya, giving 66 percent of the population who were without clean water access. Knoxvillians’ donations also helped fund the Tumaini (“hope”) Clinic in Marsabit so that people in the district infected with HIV and AIDS no longer have to travel 10 or more hours to the nearest treatment facility. Since the opening of the clinic, the community has access to integrated prevention and support programs as well.


Other donations raised at Hope in the Dark will again fund grants through Show Hope. Show Hope, founded by Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, aims to mobilize individuals and communities to care for orphans by providing grants to families adopting children from among 40 countries. Last year’s donations provided Show Hope grants to adoptive families throughout Knoxville and the U.S. who are now in the process of bringing home children from African countries.

No one person can change the world. But many adoptive families do what they can to help one small part of it.



Excerpt from the U.N.’s State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples report from Mayan Families

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

This information about the status of indigenous peoples in Guatemala is posted on the Mayan Families website.  Sobering statistics. I find it unbelievable that at the same time UNICEF was reporting a 50% chronic malnutrition rate among indigenous children in Guatemala, it was lobbying hard to shut down international adoptions.  UNICEF has now stepped away from working with Guatemala to improve the proposed system. How does that make sense?

Read excerpts from the Mayan Families website below:

[Earlier this year], the United Nations released its State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples report. Throughout the report, the UN reiterates the fundamental importance of providing greater educational opportunities to indigenous children.

“Indigenous peoples… face huge disparities in terms of access to and quality of education and health. In Guatemala, for example, 53.5 per cent of indigenous young people aged 15-19 have not completed primary education, as compared to 32.2 per cent of non-indigenous youth. Although infant and child mortality has been steadily decreasing throughout Latin America over the last four decades, child mortality is still 70 per cent higher among indigenous children. Furthermore, malnutrition is twice as frequent among indigenous children in the region.”

“Indigenous peoples also suffer from discrimination in terms of employment and income….[I]ndigenous workers in Latin America make on average about half of what non-indigenous workers earn.” Approximately 25-50 per cent of this income gap is “due to discrimination and non-observable characteristics, such as quality of schooling.”

“…[I]n Guatemala, indigenous peoples’ poverty rates are 2.8 times higher than the rest of the population.”

“In Guatemala, only 54 per cent of indigenous girls are in school, compared with 71 per cent of indigenous boys. By age 16, only a quarter of indigenous girls are enrolled, compared with 45 per cent of boys.”

The World Bank has reported that “the rate of stunting [height/age] for Guatemala overall is 44 percent, but for indigenous children the rate is 58 percent, higher than either Yemen or Bangladesh, and almost twice the rate for non-indigenous children.”

Finally, this from UNICEF, “Guatemala has one of the worst nutritional conditions in the region. Nearly 23% of children over three months and under five years of age suffered from general malnutrition, while almost one-half suffered from chronic malnutrition in 2006.”


Lake Atitlán and Mayan Families

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

There is no bad view of Lake Atitlán. This particular vista is of one of the volcanoes surrounding the lake, Toliman, framed by white wispy clouds and an orange tropical flower. One morning while everyone else was asleep, I went onto the terrace of our hotel and a woman from England said to me, “You have to take this picture!” So I did.

In the second photo, you can see men repairing a dock in Panajachel that was wiped out by Tropical Storm Agatha and her recent follow-ups. We saw such repair occurring and necessary all around the lake’s perimeter. (If you look closely,  you can see a gushing waterfall in the foliage above.) One of the main modes of transportation around Atitlan is via lancha, or small boat, a favorite activity for Olivia and Mateo. To board our lancha, we climbed down a makeshift wooden gangplank and clambered over slippery wet sandbags. I would have taken more photos, but I was too busy hanging onto Mateo to prevent him from leapfrogging over the sandbags into the drink. (more…)


Boys’ home in San Andres

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

I’m posting a message sent out by Mayan Families, an organization based in Panajachel, Guatemala that is dedicated to helping the people of the Lake Atitlán region. I have visited Mayan Families and met with founders Sharon Smart-Poage and Dwight Poage. They are tireless in their efforts to improve the lives of indigenous Guatemalans. My husband and I sponsor a student through Mayan Families and support their mission.

From Mayan Families:

“For those of you who may not have heard, Tom Heaton’s oldest son Jose was tragically killed in Guatemala City last Saturday.  Memorials can be directed for support of the new boys’ home in San Andres that Tom’s Mission Guatemala and Mayan Families are jointly operating. Tom said, “Helping these boys who have had lives similar to Jose seems to me to give meaning to his life.” Memorial donations can be sent by mail: 

–Mission Guatemala/4725 Mansfield Drive/Newburgh, IN 47630

–Mayan Families/P.O. Box 52/Claremont, NC 28610 

 Or via Paypal at

and earmarked for the boys’ home in San Andres in memory of Jose Heaton.”

Here’s the link:

Thank you so much.