We all know that children are more likely to thrive when families have the support they need to care for them.
At Cadaniño, family strengthening, spiritual formation, and academics are three of our pillars. We believe that strong families are the cornerstone of a strong community.
Strengthening the capacity of families to provide and care for their children helps prevent family separation and reduces the likelihood of vulnerable children being placed in orphanages.
But as a relatively small organization with limited staff and budget, we don't have an army of social workers at our disposal and can't implement programs to fix every area of people's lives.
That doesn't mean we can't have a powerful impact in this critical area. We have seen that by focusing on the following things, we can make a difference.
Lightening the Load
When a family is struggling to survive, life is often so fragile that at any moment, one more straw placed on your back will cause it to break.
Vulnerable people generally don't have a safety net or backup plan for when things go wrong. More often than not, they struggle every day to provide for their kids and hold their families together.
Many of the families we serve, especially in the San Jose Pinula center, live in abject poverty. They rent a room in a tin shack, use a communal toilet, wash up in a bucket and try to scrape together enough to feed their kids every day.
A majority are single mothers who don't have enough time to accomplish everything they need to do.
This is where our afterschool program comes into play.
Not only do students get the assistance they need to succeed in school, they also learn to have faith in God, develop computer skills, and have a chance at a brighter future. What we do helps to lighten the load, if only just for a few hours, so the parents can have a little more bandwidth in their day.
A few more minutes to hand wash the kids' clothes, so they have something clean to wear at least a few days a week. Time to pluck a chicken, so they have meat for dinner, a chance to sweep the dirt floor, or, dare we say it, sit down and relax for a few moments.
By feeding the children a nutritious meal when they come in for class, we save the parents the time required to make that meal, which can be extensive when you grind corn into flour to make tortillas.
With Covid-19 restrictions still firmly in place and children required to learn at home, bringing their students to our center is the only time parents are away from their kids, and, as a parent of six children, all of whom I dearly love, I can honestly say that sometimes you need a break.
If we do nothing more than keeping that last piece of straw from falling and breaking the parent's back, preventing a mother from collapsing and a family falling apart, then that alone is worth everything we do.
We all need to hear a kind word now and then. Words of encouragement are a source of strength that enables us to overcome the obstacles that lay in front of us, and the more discouraged someone is, the more powerful that kind word can be.
The families we serve carry some weighty loads and generally have few people in their lives who appreciate what they do.
At Cadaniño, we strive to be intentional in finding ways to uplift the parents of our students.
For both Mother's Day and Father's Day, we held special outreaches for the parents.
We decorated the centers, gave them gifts made by their children, shared a short message of encouragement, prayed for them, gave them each a cake to take home, and, most importantly, thanked them for the work they do raising their children.
Amazingly, the parents most expressed their gratitude for the message of encouragement we shared with them.
We have seen that encouraging the parents has a lasting effect. It acts as a confidence booster and generates self-esteem, giving them a well of strength to draw on in their difficult lives.
Ensuring that we are successful in our work to serve vulnerable students means going beyond the classroom.
While we constantly engage with the parents at our centers, if we want to build the relationships necessary to have a meaningful impact in the lives of those we serve, we have to take the time to visit them in their homes.
Our teachers try to allot one morning a week to visit the families of our students. Doing so is helping us better understand just what the home life is like for the families we serve, enabling us to be more effective in how we serve them.
For example, one of our students did good work but always brought her worksheets and schoolwork back dirty, for which she would lose points.
Upon visiting her home, we saw everything covered in a thick layer of soot, from the walls to the beds to the clothes. Thirty years of using a wood-burning "stove" had resulted in everything and everyone constantly being covered in grime, and no running water meant they had to wash up in a stream.
Understanding this meant our teachers could devise a simple solution of giving her folders to keep her homework clean and a clipboard to write on, enabling her to get better grades.
It's only by getting to know the challenges that people face that we can truly help them.
When people have busy lives, sometimes they can drift apart. Parents can live in the same house as their children, but the burden of everything they have to do can sometimes mean they spend little meaningful time with them.
We strive to foster engagement at home by giving our students assignments that require their parents to get involved in their learning.
Parents have commented that they have started learning about God from the Bible lessons we send home with their children.
For the teenagers involved in our monthly service projects, having parents accompany them when they visit needy families to teach a Bible class and provide tutoring means that the whole family gets involved in serving others.
Connections to Resources
No matter how big our program gets or how many we serve, we will never provide everything to everyone. That's is neither our job nor our calling.
But, with the right connections, we provide a link between key resources and those who need them.
Through networking with other organizations, we identify when critical services are available so the families we serve can take advantage of them.
From wheelchairs and medical equipment to educational resources to home building programs, we have been able to act as a go-between for organizations looking to help and the families we serve.
Because we truly know the families we serve and can vouch for them, it is easier for them to take advantage of opportunities that come available.
Most of what we do in the area of family strengthening does not revolve around running programs. It is finding simple targeted ways to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the parents we serve. It is encouraging them. It is making them feel appreciated. It is letting them know that someone cares about them. It is taking just a little bit of weight off their backs so they can stand a little taller.
It is being intentional about engaging with them and making them feel as if they matter. It is letting the parents know that they are important to us and that they are important to God.
And that is how we strengthen families.
Please consider partnering with us in the work we are doing to serve the orphaned, vulnerable and disabled in Guatemala and have an impact for eternity.