July 11 2017

The face of poverty is real, human and heartbreaking in Antigua.

The title of this email comes from a story I wrote about the eye-opening experience of visiting the home of two kids from Escuela Integrada (photo bottom left). An excerpt is below and the full story is on Medium.com. The experience smacked me in the face, as did visiting Casa Maria, a home for the disabled in Jocotenango, where the residents sat unfazed by the dirt and flies on their skin. I am still working on that story. The poverty here is real, human and heartbreaking.

The first group of high schoolers from St. John's in Salisbury, North Carolina, left yesterday after a week of service. I got to interview some amazing individuals (picture bottom right) and wrote three stories about their experience for the We Are Graces blog, and, together, we built their collective social media story. They enjoyed learning about the power of social media in storytelling and were eager to show me their hashtags. More importantly, they grew in faith and community both in their mission group and with the students at Escuela Integrada. I joined them for a celebratory, challenging and fun hike up the volcano Pacaya on Friday (photo top panoramic).   
Later that night, I was invited to join a group of University of Kentucky students and their professor, Liz, for dinner. Liz and I met at yoga, and she asked if I would do a mini-lecture on storytelling and creative non-fiction for her students. It was great to share creative writing techniques and interview tips with her group. I left with a sense of conviction and energy to write more and to "tell the stories that need to be told," as the journalism motto goes.
I had a couple weak moments this week, perhaps because I was far away from home for the 4th of July or because of what we saw in the homes of the students and at Casa Maria. It was likely the combination that got to me. I longed for the ease and comforts of home. I satiated my desire with a Coke, a Snickers and a yoga class, all superficial luxuries, and kept moving forward.   
The pain is real when you see these things first hand, and I am learning that the difference I can make is small. Guatemala is a country rich in joy and desperately poor in social services. Being here will change my life. For that and for all that is to come, I am eternally grateful. God be with the people of Guatemala. - Autumn Jones

Encountering the trap of poverty in Guatemala

Luis is nine years old. He is in third grade at Escuela Integrada. He and his fifteen-year-old sister Pamela take two chicken busses each way to get from their home in Ciudad Vieja to the school in Jocotenango. They change busses near the grand market in Antigua, at a transportation center of sorts: a centrally located dirt lot where all of the multi-colored chicken busses park haphazardly to load and unload passengers traveling to and from the pueblos. We visited Luis, Pamela and their four-year-old brother Manuel (pictured) at their home last week. Read the full story on Medium.com.