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The Haines family of Honey Brook has a lot of ties to Guatemala. One son, Christian, was born there. Several years ago a daughter, Kayla, went there on a mission trip. Last year, several members of the family went there and this summer, son Conner, sister Lauren, and their father plan to return. This time, however, they’re going to be bringing soccer balls – hopefully lots of them.
The Haines’ started a program known as Goals4Guatemala.org after they went to the Central American country as part of a group of 30 people from an organization called GAIN (Global Aid International). The purpose of their trip was to distribute humanitarian aid and to share the gospel with the children. During the four days they were in Guatemala they interacted with thousands of young people.
“My sister Lauren even got to meet her Compassion International child, Sheroyl,” said Conner. Lauren financially sponsors Sheroyl and writes letters to her. “It was so neat for Lauren to meet her and play with her. We didn’t know the language but we were able to communicate through smiles, hugs, uno, music and soccer,” he said. “We also taught the children the chicken dance.”
Not everything was fun, however. What the family saw in Guatemala tore at their hearts.
“We saw women washing their clothes in a stream,” said Conner. “We saw a shoeshine boy whose own shoes were duct taped together.”
Guatemala is rugged country, splayed by two mountain ranges. It is home to 37 volcanoes, four of which are active and one of which erupted just two years ago. To add to its troubles, Guatemala is earthquake prone. In 1976, a tremor killed over 25,000 people.
Natural disasters, however much they do to threaten the population, do not compare to the devastation caused by war. A thousand years ago, the country was the home of the Maya civilization, conquered by Spain in the 1500s and decimated by the introduction of European diseases for which the local population had no immunity. From the 1800s on, the land was blistered by repeated war and revolution.
More recently, Guatemala became a proxy for the Cold War battle between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1955, the Guatemalan government was overthrown in a CIA-orchestrated coup designed to both protect the property of the United Fruit Company and prevent a socialist government from establishing what it feared would become a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. In the 1960s, the country served as the training ground for anti-Castro Cuban mercenaries who would later participate in the ill-fated and U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion. Within 20 years, the entire country had collapsed into a spasm of violence, a terrifying mix of right wing death squads and left-wing guerilla movements. Guatemala was known not for its friendly people and lush tropical forests but more as an international pariah state, feared for its bloody campaigns of torture, forced disappearances, and “scorched earth” warfare. During this time, some 200,000 people died and over a million were displaced.
The Guatemalan Civil War finally sputtered to an exhausted conclusion in 1996 when a peace treaty was signed between the guerrillas and the government.
Today, more than half of all Guatemalans are descendants of the Maya peoples, the majority of whom scratch out a living as poor subsistence farmers.
Despite the poverty, say the Haines, the country of Guatemala is beautiful.
“But even the dogs and cows are skinny,” observed Conner, “and they grow corn in every place possible. On the hills. In the shade. By their houses. Everywhere.”
There are lots of young people, too. According to reports, the median age in the country is 20 and it is the fastest growing population in the Western Hemisphere. At one school, supplies were in such short supply that a teacher had only a single partially-deflated basketball for all 1,000 of his students.
“It got me thinking,” said Conner. “A lot of my friends have soccer balls just lying around in their yard. In Guatemala, the children have none.”
It also got Conner thinking of the Bible. “I have heard it said that ‘to whom much has been given much is required.’”
That’s when Conner got the idea for Goals4Guatemala.org.
“We had brought four soccer balls with us to Guatemala,” says Conner. “We didn’t have enough balls to give to the athletic directors let alone give to all of the children. My mom said ‘wouldn’t it be nice for our church to raise money to buy balls to give to the children?’ I came up with the name and idea to make it a website where people can donate online.”
Guatemala’s growing population and grinding poverty has sent waves of emigrants into the United State where there are large Guatemalan communities in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Rhode Island. In fact, so many have left the country that money from Guatemalans living abroad now produces the largest single source of foreign income and constitutes one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product.
Fifty to sixty percent of the Guatemalan population is Catholic but Protestantism has increased markedly in recent decades, primarily Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Recently, the government has tried to accommodate growing sense of pride in the country’s heritage by placing altars at every Mayan ruin so that traditional ceremonies may be performed there. The Haines’ hope that their soccer balls, emblazoned with “John 3:16,” will help to point young Guatemalans to Christianity.
Despite all the changes, however, the challenges facing Guatemala remain the same as they were 10, 20, even 100 years ago: crime, illiteracy, and poverty. The Haines family is doing their part, one soccer ball at a time.
So far, Conner and his family have raised $1,300 for Goals for Guatemala. That is about 130 balls. “My Goal is to raise $50,000,” he says. “I know this is quite a lot of money but I want to aim high!”
This summer Conner, his father and his sister are going to return to Guatemala fully stocked with soccer balls.
“If all goes to plan,” says Conner, “a lot of Guatemalan children are going to get a real ‘kick” out of what we’re bringing with us.”
You can contribute to Goals4Guatemala by going to the web site, www.Goals4Guatemala.org. Donations in any amount are acccepted. The cost of donating a soccer ball is $10, and accepted payment methods include major credit cards and PayPal.
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