The Gonzalez Family & School Supplies

Stories from Honduras continue….

There is a family, we’ll call them the Gonzalez family, they have 3 sons in the local K-6 school. The mother, is a short and feisty woman. Her life story has helped her become this way. Unfortunately, she can be found frequently screaming at the top of her lungs at one of her four children (she also has a daughter) be it at home, along the street, or on the soccer field. Frequently yelled are such encouraging phrases as “good for nothing,” “you never listen or obey,” or “you will never become anything.” We have watched her in a few street fights grabbing hair and yelling, we have heard her in the middle of the night yelling. She is also the woman who attends the Catholic church, claims she is a believer, and stops by and talks to me a few times a month while I wash clothing at the pila pretending nothing is wrong, saying hello to Alida and asking how the discipleship class is going. She always is sure to tell me she “knows about Bible stuff and is going to join.” I always encourage her to do so and tell her we are waiting to welcome her in! 

The first father of her children told her “give away the kids.” She says she would never do that because “children are not pets to just be given away.” The man she is living with now is the father of the last boy, not her daughter or first 2 boys. He is known as the town drunk. Most people here take the saying, “like father like son” to the limits and most feel that this is an inevitable fact of life – her boys will grow up to be good for nothing drunks like their father/step-father. Unfortunately, the community is a very condemning one. The father is almost continually drunk, he does sober up enough to work most days as a day laborer and gets an average wage. Almost anytime we see him he is staggering around, especially on Saturdays (payday here). If he did not spend the majority on alcohol this family would probably be doing fine, but primarily due to the alcohol problem, they are well-known within the town as one of the poorest (materially) families.  We could go into MANY more details about their family, but I think you get the idea. We could share stories every week just from this family. We’ll stick to one for now.

School Supplies Giveaways…
This family receives so many school supplies in giveaways in a year that when they receive their $500 from the government, the alcoholic father blows it getting drunk almost on a daily basis. The past 2 years when the “Bono” is given out, we have not seen any improvements to their home, food intake, children’s clothing, etc.  $500 is A LOT of money here (equivalent to approximately 3 months’ income).  This home is one of the most materially-poor in this community and continues to stay that way. Partially because of a father who is addicted to alcohol and who does not seem to feel the responsibility to provide for his kids’ schooling. With good reason – it is taken care of for him.  In addition, their health, and their health care is typically taken care of by the several international medical brigades that come to town every year and give away more medicine than they need.
Again, we are asking you to hear these stories and begin to think before just acting.  Gather all the facts, listen, learn, and move slowly - this is development, not a relief situation.  No one is going to die without school supplies.  If they were in immediate, dire circumstances then that would be a relief situation that would apply for dramatic and sudden intervention.

In this story a few facts would be crucial to know before just giving school supplies away:
  • There is something called “Bono 10,000” that the government of Honduras provides.  The long and short of it is, that if the kids of a family have good attendance at school the family is given 10,000 lempira in cash.  This is to purchase their school supplies, uniforms, etc. to attend their local school. That is more than enough, even for a big family. We are not going to go into if this is a good or bad idea governmentally/politically. We are responsible for what we do, not what they do. We need to collect the facts. And this “Bono” is fact.
  • There are usually multiple NGOs involved in any given Honduran community (certainly here in the Lake Yojoa region). We are finding that sometimes it is even 5 or more.  Usually the NGOs do not know about each other or what their involvement is. It is possible (and has happened) that one NGO will give away school supplies only to be shortly followed by another NGO doing the same. The same happens with medical and construction teams. We have seen houses that have shelves spilling over with free medicines they were given from teams. Many times people have brought us medicines they have had around for a while asking what it is for and if they could take it for a current problem.
  • There is money in Honduras. There are very wealthy Hondurans and Honduran companies who have moral and social obligations to reach out to their own people. For example, a local company comes by our village once a year to give away a backpack filled with school supplies to each child. Hondurans reaching out to their own. But, when 5 other NGOs have already come through with the same thing, the kids and families are not so excited about it. 
It is an issue of thinking big, long term, and holistically instead of just an easy give away. Holistic development that includes family reconciliation and finance management might be a better option than giving away school supplies. This is certainly more complicated, but is more likely the more appropriate intervention. It is about getting to know a family like the Gonzalez family well enough to find out they do have needs, but they also have assets. They do need help, but a different kind of help. The boys might have school supplies, but they continue to be very poor in many other ways. 

  “This has to be a good thing, school supplies”

“Why would we withhold/prevent the ‘blessing’ of giving away supplies to a ‘needy’ village?” 

“Why would you ‘rob’ me or them of the ‘blessing’?”

 Ever heard one of these comments or questions?  We certainly have, and it makes us want to tear up and our stomachs sink.  Of course not every situation is the same, every country, person, and community is different.  But what makes us sad is that people act without thinking long term, they act on their assumptions.   We certainly don't have all the “answers” as much as simple stories that we can share to shed light on what happens when outsiders perceive needs and meet them.  You have piles of school supplies, but alcoholic fathers.  More than enough school supplies but horrible financial management.  We need to be sure it is a blessing and not a curse.  We need to collect all the facts and develop true relationships instead of just gifting.

 Perceived needs are not always true needs.  To make this personal…
Have you ever had someone do this in your life? They come into your home or comment about your life, “Well, if I were you I would…”  Or “Why don’t you just….” 
And you are left thinking, “you are not me, I have LOTS of reasons why I do and don’t do the things I do, you don’t know me, you don’t know my situations or problems, you don’t even listen enough to hear why I do what I do or don’t do what I do” etc. etc. etc.” 
Right?  Or perhaps someone gives you something that they think you need, but the truth is you never use it and it’s thrown away or left to collect dust/rust.  Maybe they feel good, but you don't.

This is what foreigners do all too often in third world countries. Without speaking the language, knowing little about the culture, and only being there for a few days/weeks a year they “perceive” needs and they go back to their country/home “knowing” that they are “responsible” to meet them. Even sometimes saying that “God told them too.” With limited knowledge they begin to “do.” 
Perhaps God is calling you, but please be careful how you more forward. Start with a lot of prayer and waiting on the Lord, educate yourself A LOT, and be sure you are not trying to be the “savior.” Take the long term, slow road that allows them to find their potential in Christ and allow Him to be their one and only SAVIOR!

1 comment:

  1. Luke 6:30; Mark 10:21; Prov. 31:6-7 (among many others)


    Check out Matt. 25:40 and find out what he judges