Olivia Returns Home

Dear Friends, family and colleagues,

Two weeks ago Olivia and her 2-year-old daughter (see photo) left the safe house in Cobán (see sign over entry) and returned to their village in Chajmaic. During the three months that they stayed in the safe house, they both gained nutrition and medical stability, and Olivia contributed to the community effort at the safe house by participating in the preparation of meals. It was her personal choice to return to her village and resume her life there with her daughter. Her 9-year-old son remains in the safe, stable private home in Cobán.

Our current effort is to complete the work to put Olivia’s land in her name in the village of Chajmaic.  This includes a letter from the COCODES (village leaders) to a civil engineer, a civil engineer’s expenses, a surveyor’s expenses, lawyer’s expenses, documentation, and filing fees.  We expect that this will be completed in early October.  The transfer of funds for this effort (nearly $700) was completed on September 13.  A link to all expenditures is here.

The next step is for Ricardo to travel to the distant town of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas to oversee the name transfer for Olivia’s land, to meet with Lety and Alfonso who are managing the transfer, to check on the wellbeing of Olivia and her 2-year-old daughter, and to view and have face-to-face conversations and negotiations with the owner of the land to rent a portion of it for the chili pepper project for the people of Chajmaic.  Ricardo will negotiate price, size, and length of rental.  The total land size is 52 acres (30 manzanas), but we will start with a much smaller, pilot project – perhaps 8.5 acres (5 manzanas).

The current need is to raise funds to send Ricardo to Fray Bartolomé in the 1st or 2nd week in November.  Because of certain current dangers in the area, it is necessary for Ricardo to travel via Rio Dulce and stay overnight there, traveling to Fray each day.  This circuitous route is a greater distance, but is necessary to ensure his safety and this is paramount to the chili pepper project.  In addition, Ricardo will bring two men with him who will assist with the project and provide a buffer of safety.  The cost of this trip is $4,600 – reduced by 1/4 from the original cost analysis – and will cover 12-13 hours per day, over 7 days for 3 people and 2,340 miles (310 miles each way from Antigua to Rio Dulce, plus 110 miles each way per day from Rio Dulce to Fray).  This total cost includes the costs of travel: gas, hotel, meals, and vehicle.  We currently have 25% towards this goal.  We need to raise $3,500 within the next month.

Ricardo will tell the COCODES that in Year 1, beginning January 2017, we will do a Pilot Project and he plans to organize a cooperative first group of trainees to work the land under the supervision of Ricardo’s agricultural engineer.  For this, we need funding for land rental, equipment, tools, plants, and salaries.  Planting season in Guatemala is February.  The workers will plant seedlings, rather than seeds.

In Year 2, which we expect will begin in January 2018, we will need an increase in funds because we will need more land, equipment, tools, plants, and an increase in the number of workers and therefore, cost of salaries.

If you are interested in donating for the first time to the project or continuing your donations, you can do so through GoFundMe or receive a tax donation by writing a check to SowingOpportunities, via our fiscal agent, Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore, 489 Lowell St., Peabody, MA 01960, USA

Thank you again for your support of this important peace and social justice work.

Blessings,
Fern & Ginny

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Hunger Action Month

Dear Friends, family and colleagues,

September is Hunger Action Month in the U.S.  The motto, hosted by FeedingAmerica.org, is “No One Can Thrive on an Empty Stomach.”

In this vein, we write to you with an update with much good news on Maya’s biological mom, Olivia and her children, and that we can turn our attention back to the chili pepper project.  Thanks to your generous donations, we now have enough funds to help Olivia set up the documents to get her name on the land she purchased when she was under age.  We still need to raise the funds to send Ricardo as our conduit to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (near the village of Chajmaic) to meet with the attorney and draw up the documents.  This is a first step towards Olivia establishing independence and safety for her and her entire family.

The good news to report is that Ricardo, on his trip two weeks ago achieved the following:

  1. Olivia’s 9-year-old son is now living in a safe, stable private home in Cobán where he will receive love, discipline, nutrition, and attend religious services.  We are contributing towards his room and board.
  2. Olivia has chosen to stay with her 2-year-old daughter at the safe house in Cobán.  We are also paying their room and board. The safe house is committed to caring for them.  Olivia will also receive basic instruction in literacy and learning Spanish, which will help her to gain strength emotionally.
  3. This was accomplished through an extensive meeting between Ricardo, Olivia, members of Olivia’s family and the staff of safe house.  Ricardo told them that he cannot return to Cobán until January 2017.
  4. Commitments were made by the safe house and by Ricardo for the well-being of Olivia and her daughter, although Olivia understood that, if she leaves, we cannot take responsibility.
  5. It was determined that Olivia’s physical health has greatly improved in the past three months.  The next step is to improve her psychological health so she will take responsibility for her well-being.  In the future, we hope to address her dental needs.

As we approach the Jewish High Holy days, we are reminded of the concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, and how connected our lives are with one another.  In the summer of 2015 I told Olivia, and her sister-in-law Lety, that I was deeply committed to helping Maya reconnect with her biological roots because of my family’s experiences during the Second World War.  Without saying that my father survived the Holocaust, I relayed that people in Europe killed my father’s entire family because of our religion.  We just received an email from the USC Shoah Foundation, whose mission is to teach Holocaust education: they have a new series on the Guatemalan Genocide (http://bit.ly/2cuT10f) in Spanish.  We believe that this is, in fact, the story of Maya’s biological family, as the guerillas did come to their region.  Throughout Guatemala hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples were pillaged, violated, and murdered in Guatemala over a period of 36 years.

An important lesson about the work we are doing comes from Mother Teresa:  God can open doors to accomplish what seems impossible, for those who need it most, when we are truly acting in God’s name.

For those who have given to this project, even small deeds count.  They are part of the miracle that has allowed us to do as much as we have.  “God has given each of us the capacity to achieve some end necessary to others. Each of us has the power to increase the sum of the world’s happiness…. Salvation can be found in the simple act of extending a hand. The humblest among us can, by shear act of will, help create heaven on earth.” (Mother Teresa’s Legacy (http://huff.to/2cadg5p), The Huffington Post, Dec. 27, 2014).

We offer blessings for the present, appreciation for the past, and hope for the future, as we forge again forward in our efforts with the chili pepper project – self-sustainability through agriculture for the remote village of Chajmaic, Guatemala.

If you are interested in donating to the project, you can do so through GoFundMe or receive a tax donation by writing a check to Sowing Opportunities, via our fiscal agent, Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore.

Thank you and many blessings to you,
Fern and Ginny

 

Additional update:

This morning we are sending Ricardo funds for the legal fees to set up Olivia’s documents in her name for the land she purchased when she was under age.

Our trusted representatives in Chajmaic will travel to meet with the lawyer.
When we raise the additional funds, we will send Ricardo to oversee the transaction and to begin the chili pepper project for the village of Chajmaic.

I am attaching two precious photos from two weeks ago: (1) Olivia and her children and (2) Ricardo (far right) with the team at the Safe House.

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Help for Olivia’s Son

Dear Friends, Family, and Colleagues,

We are sending Ricardo to Cobán tomorrow to handle matters related to the health of Olivia and her children.  Olivia’s 9-year-old son – Maya’s biological brother – urgently needs psychological assistance and must be placed in a home for boys.  Ricardo needs to leverage his connections in Cobán in order to establish what resources exist, to set up meetings regarding the boy, and to assist with his transfer and psychology appointments.

Through several phone calls with Ricardo, we have determined that in addition to a safe house, the boy must have education, a sport, or something else to occupy him positively.
Because of circumstances, the nuns need the boy to vacate immediately.  Olivia is considering leaving with him and returning home to Chajmaic, but that would result in the loss of the gains she and her 2-year-old daughter have made since they arrived at the safe house in early July. (See photos.)

The plan is for Ricardo to travel tomorrow, Sunday, August 21 and stay until Friday, August 26.  We had to borrow the funds for him to travel.  If you can contribute $100 or more, or even $50, $25, or $10, would you donate to Ricardo ?  It costs $2,330 to send him to the area for a week and to cover Ronaldo’s medical care, and room and board.

We have come to an agreement with Ricardo:  We are expending resources that need to be used for the chili pepper project. We need to return to that project as our primary goal.  Therefore, this is the last time Ricardo can travel to Cobán for this year.  Olivia must commit to stay in the safe house to get better for her sake and that of her children.  She needs to be healthy and strong in every way so that she can participate in the chili pepper project.

To that end, Ricardo asked us to compose a letter that he can read to Olivia when he meets with her.  We wrote that we love her and that, for the sake of all three of her children – Maya included – that it is imperative that she remain in the safe house until she is strong enough to manage on her own.  We expect that she will be one of the workers of the chili pepper project and earn her living.

Ricardo will send us updates with photos as soon as he is able, and we will share this with you.  Thank you again for your past support and for your support going forward.

Please continue to keep Ricardo, Olivia, her children, and the chili pepper project in your thoughts and prayers.

In deep appreciation,
Fern and Ginny


Strategy for Chajmaic

Dear Friends, family, and colleagues,

Sowing Opportunities, Inc. now has a tax-exempt i.d. and we have completed documentation for our attorney so that we can move towards receiving our own 501(c)3 status.  We wanted you to know our strategy for aiding the village of Chajmaic (pop. 1,600) – a strategy that we have been readjusting as we gain more insight on the village culture:

Year 0 (took place April 2015 – December 2015)
 Visited village and took soil samples and assessed what crops grow in a region.

Conduct field research and met prospective partners/buyers of finished product.  This was a dual-function trip, outside of the region of the village where agricultural support was proposed.

Met with village leaders to gain approval, explore water sources, and met with land owners.  This trip to the village had these three purposes.

Met with village leaders regarding renting the land for six months with option to purchase (rent-to-own).  This would take place after funds are raised for this expenditure, which includes a deposit on the land and lawyer’s fees (see point 6).

We are seeking to raise funds with foundations through our nonprofit organization for the following:

Year 1 (April 2016 – April 2017)
Provide critical care intervention for Maya’s biological mom, Olivia, and her two children.

Provide food, water filters and teach the community how to install running water.  Teach the young people how to manage water and train them to educate their families.

Year 2 (April 2017 – April 2018)
Rent-to-own land, train residents of the village how to farm the land, and buy seeds, tools, fertilizers, and rent equipment, etc. in order to develop agricultural self-sustainability.  Plant initial crop (pilot crop).  This crop would be shared among the workers and sold locally.

Years 3-5
Expand what is needed to farm a bigger harvest to sell and to strengthen existing educational and healthcare institutions for the village.
Maya’s biological mom, Olivia, remains in the Safe House with her 2-year-old daughter and now also with her 8-year-old son.  The priest who runs the Safe House has sent photos of Olivia. (See attached.)

Years of severe malnutrition have had an effect on Olivia.  This cannot be reversed in a month.  At this point, she has a little color in her cheeks and face, and appears to have a full head of hair.  She is wearing the jacket that we gave her when she visited Antigua and we spent time together one year ago.

We also learned from the Safe House that Olivia’s son needs psychological care.  The cost of this is anticipated to be $27 per session, once a week, until the family leaves the safe house, which is anticipated to be end of September ($216).  According to protocol, he will have the same psychologist as his mother, Olivia, because she knows the family well.  This is a need that must be addressed soon for the well-being of the family.

Thank you again for your kind consideration in helping.

For reasons mentioned in the July 19th update, it is important that Ricardo return to Cobán to partner with the professionals who are providing care to Olivia and her family, and to work on next steps for the agricultural project.  The cost of the trip is $2,330 and he will go as soon as we can raise this amount.

All the previous information regarding Olivia and her family, and the land, were included in the last update.

The immediate needs are:

  • $675 to put Olivia’s land in her name in the village of Chajmaic,
  • $350 to pay for room and board for August for Olivia and her two children in Cobán

This campaign for assistance to Maya’s biological mom has developed through small and large donations from you, our family, friends, and colleagues.  In total, over $17,000 has been raised since January 2015 and this money has been sent to help both Olivia and the village project.  All funds received have gone directly to implementing the chili project in the village of Chajmaic and for the healthcare of Maya’s biological mother and her children.  The Remedi-Brown family’s work is all voluntary and has received no monetary compensation. We are grateful for donations in any amount, as together, they add to make it possible for us to move forward.
When we learned that Olivia had purchased land many years ago to protect her family, we concluded that she was a productive member  and a leader in her community, since it must have taken a lot of initiative to earn the money and buy the land.  We are seeking her full return to health to allow her to continue in this effort to be active in the chili project.  We plan eventually to replicate in other remote, poor villages in Guatemala.

Donations can be made here.  Please pass this on to your family, friends, and colleagues who might be interested in supporting this cause.

In great appreciation,
Fern and Ginny

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Olivia and her son to reunite!

Dear Friends, colleagues, and family,

Once again, thank you for the assistance you have given for the project in the village of Chajmaic (see photo, satellite view). We are writing with an update:

On July 11th we sent the $720 we had in funds to Ricardo:
$262 went to the safe house where Olivia is staying, to pay for room and board for her and her 2-year-old daughter for July.
We owed $825 to Ricardo for his expenses and per diem to travel to Cobán, June 19-24, 2016. From the $720, we paid $458 to Ricardo. We owe him an additional $367. He is our hands, feet, and heart in Guatemala.

We, of several faiths, are strong believers in miracles. On these two days, several miracles are occurring:

  1. We received an email on July 18th from Temple Tiferet Shalom of the North Shore, where several of you have sent donations (and can receive tax-exempt status). The Temple has $400 in donations which they will send to us soon. That will pay for the balance of the money due to Ricardo for his work one month ago.
  2. Ricardo is regularly in touch with the priest and Olivia’s sister-in-law, Lety. On July 19th Lety will bring Olivia’s 8-year-old son to her. Olivia has been asking the head nun for him to come. His arrival is being allowed as an exception in an all-female safe house, and is at the permission of the priest. Ricardo made sure that funds are already there for the transport of Lety and Olivia’s son. This was from the expense account that we provided when Ricardo made the trip last month.
  3. Olivia will meet with her psychologist on July 19th, as well. Because of Ricardo’s good fund management, there is enough money to pay the psychologist for four additional visits at once a week.

What is truly amazing is that everyone at the safe house, as well as the internal medicine doctor/psychiatrist, and the psychologist, all speak Q’echqi’, the language of the people in the village of Chajmaic.

Ricardo continues to be fully responsible for the work that is happening both in the village and in Cobán, and for this, we owe him a lot.

At this point, we need prayers, and BIG ideas for funding, such as a corporate sponsor, investor, or funder. However, any amount of donation continues to be helpful. Through small donations, we have given this project over $17,600 in the past 18 months. Other than the Crowdfunding fees and money transfer fees, all of the funds have gone directly to the project and people in need.

Fern has taken no salary in all of this, and Ricardo has taken minimal stipends. We are realizing, at some point soon, that he will have to be salaried, in order to continue this work. For this reason, we need to seek out larger fundraising entities. We would welcome your ideas and input on this.

We are also thinking, to at some point invite Ricardo to come to the U.S. to speak to groups such as houses of worship, about the project, his work, the people of Guatemala and what they need, and his vision for the future.

We now need:

  • $675 immediately to put Olivia’s land in her name in the village of Chajmaic,
  • $2,330 this month to send Ricardo to Cobán,
  • $350 to pay for room and board for August for Olivia and her two children in Cobán, and
  • $9,330 to pay for a deposit on the land in the village for the chili pepper project.

The final miracle is that our 16-year-old daughter Netta is right now in Israel, and today, July 19th, she is traveling to the Kotel, the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall), where she will pray for the project. We who are managing this project are of several faiths, but all of our faiths converge at the point of this Wall in Jerusalem. In this time of global division, we choose to focus on what unites us. For all these miracles, we truly give thanks.

We will keep you updated in the next week as to what happens with the project.

In gratitude,
Fern and Ginny

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Health and Wellness for Olivia

Dear friends and family,

We are writing to you with an update on Maya’s biological mom, Olivia, and Maya’s biological siblings in Guatemala, as well as an update on the village project in Chajmaic.

The biggest news is that we learned that Olivia bought a small parcel of land before she had Maya. She purchased the land to have a secure place to live. Olivia did this when she was under age and the land was paid for, but she didn’t have the money to have it officially documented in her name. Ricardo is assisting her to get it in her name. This entails hiring an civil engineer, a surveyor, and a lawyer, and working with the village leaders (Cocode). These actions will protect the family and the land and serve to enhance Olivia’s self-confidence.

This information also brought us to an awareness that, on some level, which we haven’t seen at all, is that Olivia took some initiative and leadership at an early age. Because of her desperate health situation and apparent social strata, we thought differently about her. This adds a new dimension to getting her healthy.

This is what Ricardo has achieved:
…for Olivia and her two younger children:

  • Ricardo maintains regular contact with the priest and head nun who run the safe house where Olivia and her 2-year-old daughter are located, and with Olivia’s doctor. With the three meals a day and medicine, Olivia and her daughter are both doing much better.
  • Olivia wants to start her sessions with her psychologist, and she will start next week.
  • Olivia’s daughter underwent physical exams and is receiving medication. The nuns are working hard because they were personally very worried about Olivia’s situation. They see Olivia and her daughter like part of their family.
  • Olivia’s 8-year-old son is temporarily being taken care of by Olivia’s brother and her sister-in-law (Lety). We are making arrangements to bring Olivia’s son to her within two weeks.
  • Olivia knows that her son is o.k. and is coming, so that eases her mind. He will receive the same love and food as Olivia and her daughter are receiving.

As soon as money is available, Ricardo will make the 11-to14-hour trip to the safe house to talk with Olivia and her family in person. Ricardo will call Lety to tell her when to bring Ronaldo to the safe house and Ricardo will present Ronaldo to the priest of the safe house. He will also speak in person with Lety and her husband, one of Olivia’s brothers.
…for the village project in Chajmaic:

  • Ricardo needs to go to Chajmaic (a) to talk about land and (b) to make sure that Olivia’s papers are ready and in good shape.
  • For the time being, Ricardo will meet with Olivia’s family in Fray Bartolomé de las Casas 30 minutes from Chajmaic, for safety reasons.
  • Ricardo will help the family to find short-term solutions – specifically safe water and training – prior to developing the chili pepper project.
  • The long-term solution will be job opportunitiesand education.
  • There is still work to be done to establish trust with the people of Chajmaic.
  • The first thing that must be achieved is getting safe and consistent water.
  • Primarily we need to rent land to show that we are serious about our intent. The cost of that is $9,300.

 

This is what we here in the U.S. have been doing:

  • Brainstorming with friends and Board members regarding fundraising.
  • Researching foundations to submit proposals.
  • Completing paperwork with our attorney to file for Sowing Opportunities’ 501(c)3 status.
  • Creating a logo and business card to begin networking as an organization.
  • Identifying where we can submit our story to publicize our nonprofit.
  • We would like to meet with fundraising consultants to sharpen our approach to funding organizations.
  • We are thinking of having a fundraiser where we might be able to tell our story and sell Ginny’s pottery. We’re looking for ideas on this, as well as having a corporate investor.
  • Ricardo’s wife, Eva María, is a licensed business administrator. She recommends that we rent rather than buying the land for one year, until we see that it’s really functional for the project. We are considering this option.

The current needs are:

Financial Needs for July to September

We currently have $720 in the bank. We expect that more will come, but this is what we have in hand.

The number 27 is appearing many, many times mysteriously in our lives. Both of our children were born on 1/27.

Would you consider donating $27 to the project? Or, would you consider giving an increment of $27 or even $127, in honor of Maya and her sister Netta?

We are excited about what’s next. Your generosity has fueled all our efforts and is bringing healing and hope to Olivia and her village. We ask that you keep Ricardo, Olivia, and the project in your prayers.

With our warmest regards and gratitude,
Fern and Ginny


First Steps

The following is an update on the work that we are doing with the Chajmaic village chili pepper project and our strategic direction.

Our target has been to raise $10,000 to fund the Guatemalan NGO CorGuate team to return to Chajmaic to negotiate with village officials and put a deposit on the land. Thus far, through individual donations, we have met just 25% of that goal.

While it is essential for our partners in CorGuate to maintain credibility with the COCODE (leaders) of Chajmaic by returning to the village with funds for a deposit, we are implementing a new strategy. We will work towards establishing the chili pepper farm, but we will set intermediate goals first.

The next stage in the revised strategy has three components: (1) to work with the people so that the entire village can receive clean, filtered water, (2) to teach the people about the importance of maintaining a clean water source for their consumption and how to do so, and (3) to train a group of 25-35 workers for one year, to become the first group of farmers. The plan is to teach about irrigation and the project on which the chili project is based in Nicaragua, which allowed multiple villages to develop self-sustaining income. This training will help the village leaders to see that we are serious about the project. Members of the village will become future partners in planting chilis and in the work to be done in the village, as coordinators.

Towards this goal, Ricardo will develop a report on what it takes to bring drinking water to the entire village.