// Melanie //
I didn’t used to give a crap about poor people.
Go ahead and hate me. I hate me. What a terrible statement. I’d step over the homeless on the street and avoid making eye contact. I didn’t want to think about people living in poverty.
Like so many things, my heart changed through motherhood. As we began the process of adopting our youngest daughter, my eyes opened to extreme poverty, broken systems, and injustice from my own backyard to around the world. I hadn’t wanted to see, but once I saw, I couldn’t look away.
The problems of children living in poverty, communities torn apart, and modern day slavery and trafficking…it all felt impossible. The numbers were staggering. What could a stay-at-home mom with a two-year-old and a degree in theatre possibly do to help?
A friend told me about an organization called Children’s HopeChest, and I was intrigued. They had a unique way of partnering people together. I may not have known much about poverty alleviation but I knew a thing or two about relationships and I knew that it was within healthy relationships that stuff got done.
HopeChest’s Community-to-Community model took a community of people here in North America and partnered it with a community in the developing world, for the mutual benefit of both. Through child sponsorships, development projects, and taking trips to build relationships, whole communities could go from merely surviving to thriving and succeeding. They could be—in one word—transformed.
I gathered some friends together and we began partnering with a community in northern Uganda that had been devastated by battles with a neighboring tribe. That was seven years ago. Over the last seven years, we’ve seen them go from hopeless in a government camp waiting for handouts to developing income generating projects, going on to secondary school, developing vocational training programs, and establishing a leadership academy. Now when we visit, hope is everywhere. They are flourishing.
My community changed, too. We drew closer together as we worked on fundraising opportunities and sent teams to visit the kids we sponsor. We developed relationships with one another as we partnered together. Both of our communities were transformed.
Last fall I mentioned to my fellow Coffee + Crumbs writers my fantasy about a different kind of community pulling together to achieve this kind of transformation, an online community like Coffee + Crumbs. It was a long shot, but I wondered if a few people would want to visit some places in Guatemala that were looking for partners.
// Ashlee //
I’m not sure why I thought Guatemala would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. I think it all started when my Internet-friend Michelle posted a link to a beautiful Guatemala beach house on Facebook. I immediately typed a comment and tagged a few of our mutual writer friends – I want to go here! Writing retreat, anyone?
A few of them responded: Beautiful! Let's do it! I'm in!
Always proactive when it comes to traveling, I sent an e-mail a few days later to get down to business. I was 100% serious about this writing retreat. I had already cleared the travel plans with my husband and researched flight options. The timing was perfect: I was no longer pregnant or nursing, hallelujah! I needed to capitalize on my window of freedom before we started talking about a third baby. My husband agreed it would be good for me to get away, and I started researching flights that night.
Unfortunately, my window of freedom did not seem to line up with anyone else's. The (very valid) excuses started pouring in, and after a few days of e-mails it became apparent that our Guatemala writing retreat was not going to happen. I gave up and told my husband it simply "wasn't meant to be."
So you can imagine my surprise when a few weeks later, out of the blue, Melanie asked the C+C writers if anyone would like to go to Guatemala with her and Children’s HopeChest.
Melanie knew nothing about my little wannabe writing retreat. I had only mentioned it to a handful of people. What are the chances that one trip to Guatemala would fall apart and another one would pop up in its place?
Some might call that a coincidence, but I've never really believed in coincidences.
I typed back: I’m in. When do we leave?
// Melanie //
In good online friend fashion, Ashlee and I met in person for the first time at the airport in Guatemala City. After three years of tweeting and texting and writing for Coffee + Crumbs together, we squealed and hugged in person, then boarded a bus to the guesthouse.
The next day, we got up and started visiting what HopeChest calls “CarePoints”—places staffed by local leaders who have extraordinary visions for their communities. We met teachers and social workers pouring themselves into under-resourced kids. We toured classrooms, visited homes, and listened as leaders shared their dreams and plans for how these programs could provide hope and transform their communities. All they needed was a little help getting started, someone with whom to partner.
The day after that, we went into the city to a bus depot called La Terminal, and nestled in the middle of a shantytown, we found Puerta de Esperanza CarePoint. We blew bubbles and threw Frisbees with beautiful bright-eyed children, and then we walked to the dump, where we met their moms, who scavenge for recyclables to earn money to feed their kids.
We instantly felt a connection with these mamas. In so many ways, they were just like us—trying to take care of their kids as best they knew how—while also facing severe challenges. Ashlee and I looked at each other and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing. Here. Here is where we’re leaving a piece of our heart.
Coffee + Crumbs is for moms and we are for these moms right here, too.
// Ashlee //
I knew very little about Children's HopeChest upon arriving in Guatemala, but by the end of the trip, I felt not only comfortable with their approach to global ministry and poverty alleviation, but passionate about their model. This was not a bunch of ignorant Americans showing up in a foreign land and telling strangers how to fix their problems. This was intentional. This was careful. This was strategic and prayerful. The best part: it was actually working. I saw it with my own eyes.
How it works:
A community here partners with a community there. All of the CarePoints are run by local leaders, either native Guatemalans or people who have lived in Guatemala for many, many years. The local leaders were vetted by Guatemalan HopeChest staff, and let me be the first to say: the testimonies of these leaders would blow your mind. Every single leader we met was selfless, smart, God-fearing, determined, and crazy passionate about the community they were serving. HopeChest comes alongside the local leaders, who are already doing amazing work, and they come up with a plan to take their community from surviving --> thriving --> succeeding. HopeChest then finds a long-term partner to provide financial assistance, prayer, and emotional support to the CarePoint for the duration of the transformation (minimum of five years, usually less than ten).
This wasn't a handout; this was a hand up—a way to empower local leaders to learn, grow, and reach their full potential as change makers in their communities.
We visited four CarePoints on our trip. Each visit consisted of two parts: one meeting with the leaders, and one home visit with a family who was part of the community in need.
I will never forget the day we visited a single mother in La Terminal.
Her entire house was smaller than one of my kid's bedrooms. Six people lived there. Metal sheets were bound together to create walls; there was no running water. The ground was nothing more than dirt and a few boards. A swarm of twenty flies circled the room. Her granddaughter sat on the floor, barefoot, drinking orange liquid from a plastic bottle. She looked about 18 months, the same age as my youngest son.
The mother was incredibly vulnerable with us, even though we were strangers to her. At the end of our visit, we asked if we could pray for her and she said yes. She looked us in the eyes and began confessing all of the ways she felt she was failing as a mother. She confessed that she had been struggling with her teenage son, who was acting out. She confessed that she struggled to provide, and that she struggled with anger and impatience.
I felt so unworthy to even accept this confession, but there she stood, handing it to us and pleading for prayer. My heart broke for her. We laid hands on her shoulders, right outside her house in a slum alley.
Melanie started to pray, “God, we know being a mother is hard, holy work…..” and tears were already streaming down my face, dripping onto the dirt.
An hour later, we stood in the parking lot and listened to the CarePoint leader, Jomara, describe her plans to start a support group for the mothers in La Terminal. She told us that many of them cannot read or write, which means they often get cheated from earning a decent wage. She described her dream for a co-op for the mothers, a literacy program and support group where they could learn together and encourage one another. Most programs in Jomara's area focus on the children, which is good and wonderful and needed, but the mothers often get left behind. She wants to change that.
As we said our goodbyes, I told her with tears in my eyes that I am part of an online community of women who care very deeply for mothers. And that Melanie and I would ask them to help.
// Melanie //
For two years now, we've been sharing our stories, and finding solace and common ground in motherhood with you. And now, we want to pull up additional seats, to pour some extra cups, to make our community even bigger and more inclusive. Today we're launching Mother To Mother: A Coffee + Crumbs Care Collective - an initiative to serve mothers around the globe through love, prayer, and financial support. We hope that as our site and community continue to grow, we can use our influence to make a difference in the lives of mothers in need.
We're starting in Guatemala, with the mothers at Puerta de Esperanza, because it was not a coincidence that Ashlee and I ended up there together.
The moms at Puerta de Esperanza lack access to education and resources. Jomara has a plan to change that, and we want to come alongside her to get started.
We're looking to fund two programs:
EMPOWERMENT - $1,875
We plan to train and organize the ladies of the community in areas such as child protection, Bible training, birth registration, group therapy, legal advocacy, and how to search for donors.
COOPERATIVE - $1,625
We want to establish a co-op with the women of the garbage dump area from La Terminal. These women currently work in the dump recollecting different materials (plastic bottles, carton, paper) and are regularly cheated from earning a fair price on the items. This new co-op will ensure that the women are paid fairly on what they collect.
That’s a total of $3,500 and with a community our size, we believe we can do that. If everyone here gives even a few dollars, we can empower and equip this group of mothers to better provide for their children. Your donations are tax-deductible! Click here to donate. We plan to keep our Mother to Mother page updated with progress reports from Puerta de Esperanza, as well as other possible opportunities to support these women.
"There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life." - Mary Rose McGeady