by Sarah Clark
Alongside Roxana, the GAAP is so happy to be able to sponsor another bright young girl in Todos Santos, Maria*. Maria is 10 years old, she’s in 3rd grade, and her mother has been receiving the sponsorship for the last year. The GAAP is able to sponsor María through the gracious support of Amy Kantor, one of our all-star veteran surgeons from New York who joined us in Todos Santos again this year for the third time.
Amy bubbles over with enthusiasm when she describes meeting María in 2015: “I had this instant connection with María the first year, she was 8 years old then. She came to the clinic. I brought a lot of nail polish and more things for kids. María and this group of girls would come and I was painting their nails. I met her and she flashed me the peace sign!” Amy still cherishes the photo she snapped of María.
Amy grew up in Washington D.C. in a political atmosphere because her father was a newspaper reporter; he would bring her to Vietnam War protests and she even heard Martin Luther King speak when she was about 5 years old. As Amy explains, “Here is this child in such an isolated part of the world, and that particular gesture (the peace sign) had such meaning for me because of my early involvement in protests and seeing people in the 60s adamantly putting their fingers in the air. A lot of people flash the peace sign now with selfies and so it’s become something different. But in the past it had a lot of power. I was really aware from a young age about injustice and what was going on the world. It was how I was raised and is a part of who I am… It was beyond just a wisdom thing for such a small child in such an isolated place to flash the peace sign, how would she know that? It was a really powerful thing for me personally, when she did that it was like, ‘Wow’.”
When Amy returned to Todos Santos in 2016 her connection with María grew stronger, and she brought clothes to María and met her mother, Ana. Amy learned that María had a little sister and that her mother was struggling to care for both girls as a single mom. Amy explained that Ana also expressed concern about “María running around all over the place as a little girl. What happens when María becomes a teenager?” So when Amy returned to the States she arranged to begin sending $50/month to María’s mother to help with the purchase of school supplies, medications and food.
When the GAAP team returned to Todos Santos this year we learned that María has a new baby brother and that Ana continues to struggle to make ends meet for the family. The GAAP is currently exploring more options for sponsorship in order to increase the monthly amount that Ana receives. María’s mother does own her own house (although there is no electricity or running water) and has a good amount of space outside, so raising chickens and planting a garden and/or fruit trees may be good options to support the family moving forward. For the time-being however, Ana survives by working odd jobs such as helping to clean and wash clothes. When we visited her humble home in March her eyes watered up expressing her gratitude for the sponsorship.
Despite living in such difficult circumstances María is a bright, thriving little girl. She sometimes suffers from health issues like stomach aches, but her attitude and energy is very good. As Amy explains, “Here’s also something I wanted to impress about María: she has a certain awareness that other children her age don’t have. Despite the environment she’s growing up in, she has some internal connection to the outside world that is greater than her village… Even though I don’t communicate with her very well still, I can see how bright she is and how much she likes science. I connected with her on that level too. She has a certain depth to her, it’s not just being an old soul, I could see this was somebody that gets things.” Amy continued, “She’s kind of extraordinarily special, she’s very perceptive. She’s someone who in very adverse conditions in terms of well-being and nurturing and education and things that children really need to progress and thrive — those components just aren’t there in Todos Santos — and despite that she’s developing well.”
When we asked María about her perspective she said, “I like Amy. I met her a long time ago. We do a lot of things together. We chat, she gives me things, we do things together, things like that.” María said that she also likes school a lot, especially math, and she likes chatting with her friends and playing. Her favorite game is one in which kids that are tagged have to freeze like skeletons. When we asked her what she would like to be when she grows up María replied, “I want to be a teacher, or a doctor like you all. I want to do many things… I want to share many things with you all, give you smiles.”
In the future Amy feels it is very important to make sure María remains in school after she graduates from 6th grade. Up until 6th grade school is free in Guatemala (although families still have to pay for school supplies and registration) and it is common for families to pull their children out of school so that they can start working. In Amy’s words, “Clearly the lack of education or limited education is going to stunt María’s progress… In a community like Todos Santos the lack of education is so horrifying to me, there’s no chance for any progress. It’s so arbitrary — you’re born in one place and you have opportunities, but you’re born in another and you don’t. It bothers me.” In addition to the GAAP seeking to expand the monthly sponsorship amount, Amy has an idea to invite María to stay with her in New York for a summer in the future: “She can go to the Lower East Side Girls Program here… The girls sign up for different activities after school and it’s all 100% free… The building is amazing and they have all this stuff for science and even a DJ room.” When the idea was mentioned to María’s mother, Ana, she was excited about it. Now that her mother is on board, Amy is “willing and committed to try and make it happen.”
The significance of Amy’s experience in Todos Santos is much greater than the service she provides as a veterinarian. The connection to María and her family has had a profound impact on her life. As Amy describes it, “It happens every time I go to Todos Santos. I connect with life outside my own ego. I look around (at this part of the earth) and I see that this has all been here a really long time before I existed, and it’s all going to be here just like this in the future. It shakes you up but it’s also a really motivating thing in my life because I realize how precious and direct time is. And I think in that respect it’s made me try and look at what the possibility is there in Todos Santos. If I can help educate just one child then to me that makes the whole experience, it makes everything really worth it.”
*Some of the names in this interview have been changed to protect the child’s privacy.