Elderly Info

The food crisis in Guatemala is having a devastating effect on the elderly. Without enough to eat, many older people are becoming weak and malnourished, leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses that they cannot afford medical care for. They are unable to provide for even their most basic needs. In many cases, family members are unable to help as they struggle to feed themselves and their own children, leaving the elderly without any form of support and often living in heartbreaking conditions.

Please help us bring them the life-sustaining food and medical care that they so desperately need. General donations are used to ensure that we always have an adequate supply of food, medicine, and funds for meals, necessary medical treatment, and transportation. Monthly sponsorship would help feed one person, once a day for five days a week. Via blog and web album, we'll show you exactly where your aid is going and help you get to know the men and women whose lives you are changing.

If you would like to sponsor an elderly person for $35 a month, please click here and write "monthly sponsorship'' in the Other box. To make a one-time donation for medicine, rent, or other costs, please click here and enter "Elderly Care Program" in the Other box. Any questions can be directed to Amy at amy@mayanfamilies.org

Media on Mayan Families Elderly

Ancianos : Megan Gette + photos by Rob Bain, Nisa East, Rhett Hammerton and Hiroko Tanaka

Mayan Families- Ancianos Stories : Nisa East

Mayan Families Elderly Feeding Care Program : Rhett Hammerton

Facing Hunger: Elderly in Rural Guatemala

Oct 29, 2012

The Blind Sisters

Maria and Guatelupe Xalcut Garcia
(A-55, A-61) Status: Sponsored as of Dec 18, 2012!
Needs:  food, maize (corn), home repairs
UPDATE: Dec 7, 2012: Maria and Guatelupe have recieved a large basket of food!
UPDATE: Dec 18, 2012:  They have received 2 new mattresses, 2 beds, 2 pillows & 2 blankets!
Want to help? Please click here.
Links to previous stories about Cayetana and her daughters can be found here

Cayetana, left, and Maria, the eldest

Cayetana died in the bed she’d shared with her daughter the whole duration of the daughter’s life. It had been a gift in the house where the old woman lived with her two blind daughters, one who also cannot speak, nor walk. The other daughter sleeps on some cardboard laid on bedsprings.

Some years ago they’d lost their father after he’d been hit by a car. Then they lost their house in a mudslide, and along with this, their possessions. They are glad to have a place to sleep that is not boards atop the earth, nor the earth itself.

The new house has two rooms whose doors face each other in a corner, where the sun, the only light, comes in. The kitchen is some pieces of tin sheeting around a stove, whose fire is put out each time it rains, when the ground becomes a pool where bowls and bottles float. Behind this, a closet with a tarp for one wall covers a hole meant for using the bathroom.

Above the bed hangs a portrait of Christ, next to a mirror that would be ordinary except for the knowledge that only one of the three women has ever seen her reflection in it. In the corner sits a wheelchair, unused. 

The mother made money sitting in front of a waterfall, begging from tourists who wanted to take her photo. She’d bring back loads of wood to use to cook and her earnings, and in this way the women lived. She became famously photographed. She led the blind to lunch each day. She dressed and washed the one who could not do it for herself.  

The day Cayetana said she could not breathe, and left the lunchroom, she led her daughters home, who pinched her sleeves, following. People came to visit: first the doctor, then others who came to say goodbye. Cayetana complained of pain and of not wanting to die, while one daughter banged two small teddy bears together and the other cried at her side. Sometime later she left her body in the bed and her two blind daughters waiting, for days, for help to remove it.

It was the daughter’s bed too, where the doctor said Cayetana would die of the swelling from her enlarged heart, and where she did die, bleeding through the mattress. The daughters, who did not have another, turned it over.  

What will we do for maiz? says the older sister, what will we do for food? My sister, she says, she can’t go out. She can’t walk. The two sit in the doorway and blink in the sun like those who have been underground awhile must adjust to new light, as if the gesture might allow them to see. They wait for something or someone to happen to them. They wait for a hand to lead them to eat. They wait for a hand to dress them. They wait for time to pass.

Gregoria Xalut Perez

(A-57) Status: Not Sponsored
UPDATE Jan 2, 2013: Gregoria received a bed & mattress!

Gregoria climbs too many steps to her wooden house.
She talks about the eight children who have left her on the hill, who never come to visit.
When I ask her what her life was like before, she asks before? before? 
Before what? She used to spend her days cilmbing mountains, pinching coffee seeds from their branches.
Today she spends her days climbing mountains, picking up sticks.
She carries the load on her back.
Sometimes she will rinse and peel onions in the fields for a few cents.
Sometimes a neighbor will have an extra tortilla for her.

Oct 25, 2012

Juana Buch Chumil

Juana's eye began to whiten, clouding so there was no light.
She went to a doctor, who hemmed and hawed.
He said I will charge you more than you have to save your eye.
She did not have the money to save her eye. The eye closed.
Now she sees with just the one; a white cloud is beginning to form over the color.

(A-47) Status: Sponsored as of March 20, 2013! Thank you!
Needs: food assistance (apart from lunch,) chairs, table, mattress, electricity, ceiling repairs
To help, click here.
For more stories and photos of the ancianos in the Feeding Program, please consider purchasing a book compiled of our participants. All profits go to the Elderly. You can preview the book here.  
UPDATE June 19, 2013:

Her two adolescent grandchildren and one daughter are living with Juana in the small space. Juana shares a bed with the granddaughter; they prop it up with a board because it is broken, and they have no mattress on the bed. Juana has been vomiting and experiencing dizziness. She is taking medications for colic.
Because it is now the rainy season, and because their roof is ill-constructed lamina, water is entering the house. They have hung a small tarp between the bed and ceiling so the bed will not get soaked, but this does not help much. The dirt floors turn to mud when this happens.
Despite her age, poor eyesight and other health issues, Juana is the only one making an income in the house, as her son-in-law left the family. He sends money occasionally, but Juana's weaving, which she sells in the market, is what sustains them. 

Paulina Perez Coroxon

(A-45) Status: Not Sponsored
Needs: Onil stove, water filter, chairs, table, bed, mattress

Paulina has one grandson, and one son who does not work.
She has nothing else besides.
No radio, no TV, no blender, no fridge.
No walls that meet the roof, no stove, no floor, no water filter.
No bathroom, no chairs, no table, no closet.
No mattress, no bed.
She can no longer see, and wears dark glasses to cover her eyes.

Felipa Ramos Bocel

(A-38) Status: Sponsored as of January 23, 2013! 
UPDATES: January 30, 2013 Felipa now has a water filter, bed and mattress, thank you!
UPDATE: August 28, 2013 Felipa received a food basket! She was so thankful!
Needs update: September 3, 2013: firewood, medical care, food (maiz),  blankets, sheets, a pillow, thick socks and sweaters, roof repair.
UPDATE: September 12, 2013: Felipa received much needed firewood, corn, blankets, and a pillow!

For more stories and photos of the ancianos in the Feeding Program, please consider purchasing a book compiled of our participants. All profits go to the Elderly. You can preview the book here.

Felipa sleeps on wooden boards laid on her dirt floor.
She did not go to school.
She had one child who died when he was born.
She had another, who died when she was born.
She had another child, and he died when he was born. 
After this, she and her husband stopped trying, and had no more.
Her husband died some years ago; she passes the time threading bracelets to sell in the street. 
He left some things, which she sells so she can eat.

Oct 24, 2012

Sabina Bocel

(A-51) Status: Not Sponsored
Needs: Onil stove, water filter, bed and mattress
For more stories and photos of the ancianos in the Feeding Program, please consider purchasing a book compiled of our participants. All profits go to the Elderly. You can preview the book here

Sabina's spouse is missing an eye; she is missing a row of teeth.
He sleeps on the wooden boards on the floor, she on a cot in the kitchen.
While they should both come to eat, only Sabina makes it.
Her husband does not want to leave the house, surrounded in tall crops and grass, as he cannot see well.
She takes half her food to her husband.
Their child drinks and does not work.

Past stories about Sabina: click here.

Maria Felipa Coroz

(A-30) Status: Sponsored
Needs: food, electricity, drainage, medicines
Past stories about Maria: click here.
UPDATE June 19, 2013: "If I suddenly die," Maria says, "where would they put these things?" She explains why she does not ask for anything. The problem now is the trail to her house, which is long and treacherous. The rain makes it worse, so she cannot leave to come to the dining center to eat. She says she tries to visit her son who lives nearby each day, since if she doesn't, it is a sign that something is wrong. Her son comes to the house to check on her then, if she's sick or has fallen. While Mayan Families had given her a stove, she rarely cooks, subsisting on the food brought from the dining center. Her kids have no money to give her, nor does she have a way to make her own. She uses a latrine shielded only by PVC pipe and some sheets.

Maria Felipa lives alone, high on a hill, taking a hour to get to from town. 
Like many of the women here she has outlived her husband by at least a decade; her children are too poor to look after her. 
She lives without a shower, or a sink. 
She waits for the neighbor child to bring her a barrel of water per week. 
She lives without a table, or chairs. She eats in the bed that was a gift. 
She lives without a floor; four wooden, rotted walls surround the dirt. 
When she cooks, she kneels on arthritic knees and blows on the open fire.

Rosa Guit Ramos

(A-32) Status: Sponsored as of Nov 9, 2012!
For more stories and photos of the ancianos in the Feeding Program, please consider purchasing a book compiled of our participants. All profits go to the Elderly. You can preview the book here.  

Rosa saves a little lunch for later. 
Today she could come to eat her lunch, yesterday, no. 
Her feet swell and sometimes she must stay in bed. 
Where once she'd sold food at the market or door to door, piling fruit into baskets to weigh on her head, now she must wait for someone to wait on her.
Her daughter is getting on in age as well: at 60 she washes other's clothes and sells in a store.
She makes enough to feed her own family, but not her mother, who depends on the lunch she receives.
When I ask Rosa what she needs she says food, sugar, beans

Luciana Simion Buch

Update Dec 4, 2012: Luciana has received a generous donation of shoes, food, and a blanket! She is so grateful, thank you!

(A-43) Status: Not Sponsored
Needs: water filter

Luciana asks for a pair of shoes, vitamins.
Once she wove great reams of fabric; she spun the threads by hand.
Now her bones swell inside their skin and she does not weave.
She hardly walks.
Her son and her grandson are builders, whose work is never steady.
They cannot afford to drink pure water, so drink from the tap.
Because of this Luciana vomits and has diarrhea all day.
But she does not complain of her body's disobedience, nor her arthritis, the bad water or that she does not have blankets on her bed.
She asks for shoes, vitamins.

Oct 23, 2012

One story, a hundred faces

There is the kind of displacement that becomes a refugee: for example, a hurricane stripping a home of its inhabitants, or a war chasing out those will not fight. It is a word representing the forced movement of a thing from one place to another. It evokes violence, resistance, and destructive change.

With reference to a person, it is a forced exile from their home to somewhere unfamiliar. We say they have been uprooted, like the wind tears out a tree from the ground.

Then there is another kind of displacement, a change most of us only gradually notice but for others, happens as violent or unexpected as a storm: age. Instead of being a victim of the time and place of your country, a person becomes a victim of the vehicle he uses to live in the world.

Guatemalan indigenous, if they have lived long enough, experience both kinds. They have experienced the displacement of natural disaster and war, where winds or bullets had forced them to seek refuge in the mountains or elsewhere. As they age, they may also feel a body’s betrayal, as their means for work, transportation and staying out of debt begins to fail. They become displaced in becoming unfamiliar, even useless, to themselves. Where do we go? What can we do? Says a refugee, lost somewhere not his home.

Many elderly are accustomed to carting large bundles of wood, food or water on their backs and heads. Others work in fields plucking seeds or leaves with fingers that will not close around them. Most walk to where the water is, to where they can get food, to where there is fuel for their fire. What can they do when their body slows? The slightest health problem incurs a debt too large to repay, since it is their very bodies which must work to pay to repair them.

And sometimes, to rely on the family they’d raised is to rely on the support of disaster relief housing after a landslide: the relief is not built to last, as the families, like the houses, can barely support themselves.

The indigenous elderly's ailments are great and means are few. It is one story with a hundred—thousands of faces. 

We are asking you to help us feed just one. The upcoming photos and bios will feature one human being displaced by time— a body become foreign in a familiar context--as one face in a world of faces.

We aim to provide nearly 80 people with one meal, once a day with a monthly sponsorship of $35. 

Please consider helping someone who does not have, nor will have, a way to help themselves. Visit www.mayanfamilies.org/donatenow 

Oct 19, 2012

Feed Just One.

Our Elderly Care program feeds about 70 people per day at our locations here in Panajachel and the neighboring village of San Jorge.

For most of them, this is the only meal they receive all day. Some stretch their portion by saving half for the evening. For some, they are the only members of their family who get to eat that day. Others save half their meal for their wife, husband or families at home.

When I ask what they’d eaten that day, or what they might eat later, many answer: a single tortilla with salt. A single egg.  A tomato. Nothing.

Some of our elderly live with their entire families in a single house. Some have nine children who have four or five children of their own. Food prices continue to soar, leaving those who cannot work in worse conditions than ever: the adults in the house must choose who gets to eat, their children or their parents. They must choose who gets to sleep in a bed, and who must sleep on the floor.

This should not have to be a choice. The Feeding Program provides a single meal a day to the elderly who otherwise would forfeit their food for the children, or who by their poor health would not otherwise be able to scavenge the trash for scraps or find other means to feed themselves.

Having spent their lives in desperate conditions during the last century of war, poverty, civil unrest and its constant repercussions, the elderly are still the last to receive relief in Guatemala. And having spent their lives struggling with the hope that someday things might get better, and being proven otherwise, they are grateful for even the smallest gift: one meal per day, five days a week.

By no means is one meal enough, but at the moment it is all Mayan Families can provide, and the program is in danger of being cut. Only those who are currently sponsored will continue receiving their one meal a day. The rest we will have to refuse; we will have to tell them that even this tiny, but necessary quantity of food will be taken from them, like so much has been taken from them throughout their lives.

Currently, only 13 of our elderly receive a monthly donation to help with food, medical costs, rent or other necessities. In an effort to ensure that all 70 of our elderly receive just one meal a day, not including purchased medicine, rent costs or other expenses, we are asking you to sponsor one for just $35 a month. We will continue to help our elderly for medicine and other needs per the extraneous donations we receive. However, $35 a month will provide one meal per day, five days a week, to one person who has no way to care for herself, whose family faces the daily impasse of feeding who they must raise or feeding who fought to raise them. 

If you would like to help to keep one person fed for one month, please visit www.mayanfamilies.org/donatenow and write "one month, one person'' in the Other box. 

Oct 18, 2012

Update: Manuel needs follow-up after his surgery

Manuel has been doing very well since his surgery.  It truly saved his life and he never would have been able to pay for it on his own.  He and his family are extremely grateful for the opportunity that Mayan Families gave them to save Manuel!  Thank you so much for contributing!

Now, Manuel is in need of follow-up care after the surgery.  For the procedure to maintain its full affect, Manuel must travel two hours to the hospital nearly every month and have adjustments made to the apparatus that was inserted.  Every time Manuel travels, he needs $67.  Without these check-ups, Manuel's condition will become extremely painful again and put his life at risk. 

Please consider helping Manuel and go to Donate Now and scroll down.  In the Other $ box, enter the amount of your donation.  In the Details box, enter Manuel Medical.  Thank you!

Manuel, a 64 year old mute man in our elderly care program, is in need of an urgent life-saving surgery!  He was operated on in January for prostate problems and seemed to be doing fine, but recently has had extreme pain and has been urinating blood.  The complications from his previous surgery have now put his life in danger and we are worried that if he is not operated on immediately, he will day a very painful death.

Manuel's niece came to us today to ask us for help to send her uncle to a specialist who will do the procedure for $1200.  The public hospital is not equipped to provide Manuel with the care that would save his life.  Please consider helping cover the costs of Manuel's surgery!

Oct 17, 2012

Ramos Cumes Gonzalez

(A-8) Status: Sponsored for 1 year as of June 23, 2013!
Needs: water filter
UPDATE: September 12, 2012: Ramos received a new mattress!

UPDATE: September 12, 2013: Ramos was able to go see an opthalamologist for various evaluations to address his poor vision in both eyes. The doctor diagnosed Ramos  with an infection as well as an abnormal growth that is causing inflammation. Ramos also has very advanced cataracts but the doctor  does not recommend surgery because of his age and the risk that the surgery might not help and could even worsen his vision. The doctor recommended that Ramos wear sunglasses to protect his eyes from the sun, and also gave him some lubricating eye drops, as well as eye drops to address the infection. He also recommended that Ramos rinse his eyes each night with baby shampoo.

To donate one-time to his needs, click here.
For more stories and photos of the ancianos in the Feeding Program, please consider purchasing a book compiled of our participants. All profits go to the Elderly. You can preview the book here.  

Ramos sits on the curbside cradling his cane with one hand and holding out a small pan with his other. He looks at the street vacantly, as he cannot see well with his cataracts. He does not shake the pan with change in it, nor wear a sign stating his case. He sits alone, waiting, saying nothing and expecting little so that he might walk the long road up the mountain where he lives, where he might have something to eat that night.

Ramos, like many of the elderly here, walks on legs barely thicker than his bones. He walks a distance most would choose to drive, though the state of his body shouldn’t allow this. Many of our elderly, unable to work in their old age or with debilitated bodies-- without retirement funds, pensions or savings-- must resort to the least dignified of all professions when they are hungry: begging in the street. 

Where once Mayan elders were revered and cared for by their families and communities, today they must rely on the kindness of strangers to sustain themselves. Most of their families can barely provide for their own, and the elderly get pushed to the side, assumed to have lived out the need to be cared for. There is no work they can do, no nursing home where they might live to ensure that they’ll eat everyday, or have access to the medical attention they need, or have the assurance of a community that cares for them. 

As keepers of Mayan heritage, languages and history, the elders deserve more than a hot meal five days a week. They deserve the dignity and respect of those who have lived working to maintain Mayan identity through centuries of colonial and government order to repress it. Where no public program exists for them, Mayan Families Elderly Care program would like to continue providing food for those unable to work for it, or, often, walk for it.

Donations of any size provide food, medical care, or other necessities that cant be bought with dimes in a pan. Ramos is only one of many examples of a lifelong cycle of poverty in a country who turns a blind eye to those who built it.

If you would like to help in any way, visit www.mayanfamilies.org/donatenow and write "Elderly Care-- (food, general etc.)'' in the comment box.

Oct 1, 2012

Support the Diabetes Club at Mayan Families

In Guatemala, diabetes has become a major issue in recent years as processed foods, infrequent exercise, and generally poor economic and social conditions contribute to its increasing prevalence. In addition, limited access to medical care or even knowledge about symptoms to look for accounts for many undiagnosed cases of the disease.

Gone untreated, diabetes can lead to diabetic neuropathy-- serious nerve damage that results in numbness and infection. In extreme cases, the consequence may be the amputation of a limb. Foregoing treatment may also lead to blindness, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, which in turn can cause an ugly death.

Many victims in Guatemala are unaware that they have it. Those who are aware often cannot afford treatment. The Diabetes Club supports 35 participants once a month at Mayan Families, offering counseling and minimal education on foods and drinks that would help them to control their illness. Participants recieve a check-up, a snack, educational talks and much-needed companionship with those suffering the same illness.

Without the money to buy healthy foods, many rely on starchy, sugary foods to sustain them: tortillas, potatoes, or bread. Having little financial means to control their diet adds insult to injury, as suffering the effects of back-breaking work or standing all day in smoke-filled kitchens worsens their symptoms. The Diabetes Club cannot afford to provide insulin to our participants, nor other basic medical necessities a patient may need, such as a glucometer or oral hypoglycemics.

Eventually, Mayan Families would like to provide patients with the access to the care they deserve, and the education necessary to help them control their diabetes, specifically in the extreme living conditions particular to the highlands of Guatemala. For now, our participants benefit from the community and care offered by the Diabetes Club.