Gratefulness is a 2 way street

Joseph and I are back from visiting the projects in Guatemala. During this trip, one thing I was reminded of is that gratefulness is a 2 way street.  

When we prepare these visits, we discuss expectations with our local partners. We are visiting to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the programs. As we visit the schools, we do not want to disrupt the students’ learning. It enables us to get a better understanding of the functioning of the projects. Also, as we would not want our children to be disrupted by visitors in our schools in the US, we certainly want the students of our partner schools to focus on their learning.

Well, despite upfront dialog on these topics, we consistently fail on this front. We do disrupt the schools when we come. With no exception, we have had an assembly of the entire school community (200 to 400 people) at each of our 4 visits. We have been offered gifts (simple ones). I have come to realize that this is an unrealistic expectation mainly because of 2 reasons.

First of all, treating their visitors well is a deeply rooted value in the culture of the communities we work with. We visited at the time of the preparation and the celebration of Mothers’ day. Posters were made, costumes were created, skits were rehearsed. The Friday of mothers’ day, every school invites the moms to a celebration, including parades, dances, skits, gifts and lunches. The communities have a tradition of treating their guests well and of celebration. We are no exception.

The second reason is that Gratefulness is a universal feeling, that particularly when on the receiving end, we want to express. This became apparent to  me towards the end of the trip, because of this small adventure - we had rented a car for this visit. As we waited at the rental agency, we talked with another customer (the wait was 90 min so, we had ample time to chat). He told us about his last experience renting. He had to pay a substantial amount for a supposed damage under the car that he did not believe he had made.  When it was our turn to the counter, I was uneasy about signing 4 or 5 small print documents. During our trip, we noticed a rattling noise under the car. By the end of the last day, the noise had become significant. It was 5:30pm. We planned on departing for the capital the next day at 4am, and return the car. What to do? Cesar called a trusted mechanic, who introduced me to a welder. The welder attended me right away, spent 40min under the car, and charged me $6 for reconnecting 2 pipes. I was immensely relieved and grateful to both the mechanic and the welder. They could have easily taken advantage of the situation. The act of thanking them was very important to me and I appreciated them taking my thank you gracefully. Even though I strongly believe that the education of the children we serve is a right and not a charity (it does not need a thank you), I understand that people are grateful.

The teachers and the students of the projects we visited in Guatemala expressed numerous times and in numerous forms GRATEFULNESS for the opportunity to work with TINFA. They are grateful of TINFA’s supporters, for making these projects possible. On behalf of the students and their teachers, thank you.