Dear Friends of Cadanino;
We send this letter out, to let our friends know what we have been doing so far this year. God is working several miracles in our midst. Day to day we appear to struggle with the normal challenges of a disability ministry. There are many hardships and disappoi ntments, but also moments of pure joy. Below we outline a bit of what we are doing and how we understand and conceptualize the evolving opportunities.
We view our paid staff as a large part of our ministry. Several of our employees are single mothers living in poverty. We hope to give them some help and a way to stabilize and improve the quality of life for their families. Ministering to this group has been one of our major and most daunting challenges. This year we have experienced significant turnover of staff. Though much of it is for the better it is always hard to see people go. We refer to most of our staff as teacher’s aides (or Niñeras). Our staff of 8 attends to and tries to stimulate the 25 children under the age of 18 during the daytime hours. We work closely with the government teachers and occupational therapists. We happily promoted, Marie Eugenia Valenzuela, to the position of team leader. She has been with us for three years and has a true passion for the kids in our care. The six teacher’s aides are, Griselda, Noemi, Silvia, Magaly, Glendy, and Yojana (a recently widowed 25 year old Mom mother). We also have Vivi teaching a Sunday School Bible based course on a part-time basis. We have great hopes for the continued success of this lively and dynamic team. Please pray for them and their families.
With mixed emotions we write of the transfer of Susy Aldana to a specialized children’s hospital for the disabled in Antigua, Guatemala. Arriving in 2009, Susy has been a favorite of ours and the entire staff. She arrived at ABI (Abrigo Bienestar Integral, — “The Center”) at 13 years of age. She weighed a little more than 25 pounds. As a result of her profound cerebral palsy and malnourishment, she was underweight, unable to swallow and her limbs were twisted and stiff. She had been raised to that age by an impoverished grandmother who somehow kept her alive. Susy is unable to swallow liquids or chew food because of her condition. She also suffers from scoliosis and continual respiratory ailments including bronchitis and respiratory pneumonia. It was a miracle that she had survived as long as she had prior to coming to the Center.
Since her arrival in 2009, Susy has been attended to by the staff of Cadaniño all of her waking hours. We incorporated physical therapy to improve her mobility and motor skills. Additionally, our staff very patiently fed her formula and liquefied food. Her inability to swallow and the challenge of keeping down her nutrition made it a very slow and laborious process. But a labor of love for our Niñeras. Within a few years she had doubled her weight (to almost 50 pounds) and improved flexibility of her limbs. She has a smile that lights up the room and manages to convey a wide range of emotions through her facial expressions and some gentle cooing. We often commented on how miraculous her life is and everybody is touched by knowing her. We wonder how she survived her early years and remain amazed at how many infections and viruses she is able to ward off.
After several years of consideration and research she has been transferred to Hermano San Pedro in Antigua, Guatemala. This long standing Catholic Ministry has broader staff and more specialized physicians to treat and develop a person like Susy. Though Susy is extremely popular and loved by our staff, we grudgingly admit that it appears to be in her best interest to live at this new home. The staff and expertise at San Pedro is better equipped to attend to the needs of a person like her. We have visited her in the new home and she appears well cared for and happy. We continue to pray for her and plan to visit her frequently.
We continue to be blessed by mission teams from the USA. For the past five years we have benefitted from the missions teams from The Village Church. Under Kellie Shay’s able leadership we have learned from physical therapists, occupational therapist, special educators and fine loving folks from various walks of life. Their love and generosity in time commitment has made a big difference in the quality of life for our residents. Because of their annual visits, we have benefitted from continuity and ongoing input and vision. God has truly blessed us through their missionary vision.
Additionally, we have received a team of occupational therapists from Xavier University. Under the amazing leadership of Leah Dunn, we have learned so much about best practices in the world of occupational therapy. Their recommendations and insights have helped us structure our programs and classes in a way that really benefits the kids. Her team of students and teachers add a wonderful dynamic to our day to day challenges.
We always welcome teams of missionaries. If you know people who would like to take a missions trip please let us know and we will work to put together an awesome experience. God works through his people and there are so many joys and spiritual insights that people receive when they reach out and love a hurting population. No experience required!
We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge and thank our Church here in Guatemala: Casa de Libertad. Under the pastoral leadership of our Pastor, Francisco de Bendfeldt, we have developed spiritually and faithfully in our programs and personal lives. Casa de Libertad is an Acts 29 Church and a growing vibrant community. Through our Church we are also part of the orphanage called Fundaninos. We benefit greatly from their experience and infrastructure as we navigate the different legal, cultural and spiritual programs that we are attempting to implement. The Bendfeldt family has been an enormous blessing in our lives here in Guatemala. We really lucked out when we connected with them in our early years working here.
In February a few of us had the good fortune to attend the first international conference on Disabilities Ministry offered by Joni and Friends in Agoura Hills California. It was wonderfully uplifting to see God’s grace and mercy pouring out on ministries and missions from all over the world. God’s hand reaches out with love that continues to help the broken and downtrodden while at the same time lifting up those that are in a position to assist. The insights and challenges we learned about during the three day seminar inspire us to do more. In fact, during our time there we started the early planning phases for our next project…El Arca.
Project El Arca
We hope to open a residential home for five of the adults that currently live in ABI. There are currently 65 residents in ABI, consisting of 40 adults and 25 children. Our Cadanino staff currently works with all 25 children during the day, providing enrichment, love and individualized development plans. However, several of the 40 adults are very high functioning and capable of living much more independent and productive lives. It is our hope to slowly help de-institutionalize several of the more capable adults. Several of them have aged out of the system, but have no family to welcome them back home. Fortunately, the government does not toss them out on the street, but unfortunately we have a growing adult population with very few resources. It is difficult to see such human potential without the desire to try to help.
Our initial plan is to rent a house in the immediate neighborhood of ABI. Thus the first 5 residents will be able to experience a home setting, yet return to ABI for classes and medical treatments. The plan is to rent and furnish a desirable house that will give them a sense of family and individuality. We are receiving encouragement from all quarters: the Guatemalan Government Social Services, our Church and our people (friends of ABI and Cadaniño) who know our population and environment. The folks that we are working with at the government are eager to see this succeed. We hope to be a model for future residential settings and strive to de-institutionalize as many folks as reasonably possible.
El Arca as a project is taking longer to get started than we would like. At first, it was concern for continued medical coverage. That seems to be resolved and now the challenge is to find a suitable home for the residents. We thought we had the perfect house to rent, but it fell through at the last minute as the owner was reluctant to rent to our profile of people. Please pray we find the perfect residence soon. We have a budget and a good idea on how to staff the home on a 24×7 basis. It will be a big step forward for us, so please pray for success.
On a lighter note, we celebrated the Quinceañera of Ingrid Miranda in the month of May. She is one of the first children that we attended to and she quickly became my favorite child. Ingrid has low intelligence and a nearly uncontrollable seizure disorder. Her legs and arms are warped because of some childhood neglect or abuse. Though she can stand with great help, she will likely never walk. She has a warm smile and radiant eyes. For her 15 year old birthday party, we celebrated the traditional Quinceañera.
Replete with music, dancing and a religious ceremony performed by my friend Father Michael Della Penna, a good time was had by all. She wore a beautiful new gown and looked lovely. Though she did not really understand the cause or purpose of the celebration, she enjoyed the attention and affection she received.
Please pray for Guatemala
As we write this the Guatemalan government is struggling with Democracy and Corruption (at an even higher level than normal). The Vice President has been forced to resign and the current President is besieged with charges of corruption and theft. They are attempting to impeach him and he appears to be universally reviled. There are literally daily protest marches. Thank God everything has remained peaceful so far. In a country where corruption is a way of life, this administration has been exceptionally dishonest. It is very sad to see. Since we work inside the government orphanage ABI, we closely follow political developments. The Cadanino staff that we employ consists of eight people, but we work alongside 70 employees who work for the Government Social Services Department (SBS). They remain relatively calm about the current political maelstrom. While they are used to it, they remain concerned as well. General Elections are scheduled for September; we remain on high alert until a new government is in place.
I had the good fortune to attend my 40th high school reunion. They gave me a 10 minute slot to talk about our disabilities ministry. I prepared a 20 slide PowerPoint presentation that discussed what we are trying to accomplish. It was a joy to talk about our ministry to dear friends of 40 years. The feedback and insights I received were quite moving and thought provoking.
If you are interested in the IGNITES “deck” please let me know and I will email it out to you. Several of the more compelling slides are photos of special kids with complicated and moving stories. The pictures can’t convey the courage and dignity that these kids embody.
In closing we want to thank you for your continued interest and prayer. As always, you are invited to visit and see first hand what God is doing with this mission. Please follow us on Facebook and our blog. May you have a Blessed summer and fall.