Sitting in the dark, one-room hut that she built with the help of her ten-year-old son Estuardo, using the only building material available to her, dried cornstalks and mud, Sylvia could not see any light in the dark tunnel of misfortune that she had entered.  The rains would soon be upon them and she had no secure roof on the fragile shelter that was home to her and her five young children.As she pondered the events of the past years, Sylvia could not help but feel that God had abandoned her.
For most families, scratching a living out of the mountains of Eastern Guatemala, life is a perennial challenge, trying to meet the needs of a growing family with little to no income. To add to her burden, two years ago Sylvia’s youngest child, Jenny, was born with hydrocephalus, a disorder that causes water to accumulate around the brain and must be drained at a hospital on a regular basis.  The financial challenges of travelling back and forth to the hospital in Guatemala City from the mountain community where she lived quickly drained the minimal cash they had on hand.  Desperate to provide for his family, Sylvia’s husband was arrested while trying to acquire money through illegal means.Sylvia was now alone.  She slowly began to sell her meagre possessions to pay for her trips to the hospital.  As a last resort, she sold her small propane burner that she used to cook their simple meals.  To add to the mountain of challenges already facing her, Sylvia’s own father could not accept Jenny’s condition.
He refused to accept that his grandchild’s birth defect was connected to his bloodline.  His solution was to disown his daughter and grandchildren.  Sylvia was forced to move out of her parent’s adobe home where her family of six were occupying the room that belonged to her brother who was away, working in Guatemala City.   Fortunately for Sylvia, she had the deed to a very small sliver of land beside her father’s home.  There she built their present shelter with the help of her son who has been forced to abandon his childhood and take on the role of a man before his time.Sylvia’s meagre supply of food was running out.  She had found temporary employment harvesting corn at a nearby “finca”.  The plantation owner had allowed her to keep the small, immature ears of corn that were of no value to him, in order that she may feed her family.
Once again, within a week Sylvia was due to take Jenny to Guatemala City.  She had always found a way to make ends meet, but finally, Sylvia had to resign to the fact that she had exhausted all of her options.  She had reached what seemed to be the end.  What would happen to poor Jenny and the rest of her family?Sylvia’s dilemma was brought to our attention at the Wells of Hope compound.  I went to visit Sylvia and her shy children who didn’t know what to make of this tall “gringo” walking into and interrupting their life of misery.  Sylvia’s delicate shelter of cornstalks and mud humbled me to the core.  I could not believe that she and her five children actually lived there and still survived.  Miriam and I were determined to help in some way but did not yet understand how.  Little did we know that God had already touched the hearts of some youth from Niagara who, unbeknownst to themselves, were on their way to bring hope back into Sylvia’s life.

As part of our Mission Statement, Wells of Hope is not only dedicated to reaching out to the poor, Wells of Hope is also committed to allow the project to be an avenue for those wanting to reach out to the less fortunate in a hands-on capacity, the possibility to do so.  A team of twelve youth from Denis Morris high school, two teachers and a parent had planned to spend ten days with us in Guatemala during the March break.  While waiting to board their flight at the Buffalo airport, the flight was cancelled at the last minute due to the heavy snowfall.  Frustrated and disappointed, the youth returned to their homes.  The trip was rebooked for the following weekend.  Once again, before even reaching the airport, the trip was cancelled a second time as the snow continued to fall.  Scott Maxwell (from Niagara on the lake), the teacher responsible for co-ordinating the trip, could not give up, seeing how disappointed the students were to be let down a second time.  Soliciting the Separate School Board, Scott and his team of youth were given permission to rebook their trip that would now take away from instruction time at school.

After taking a day to settle down in camp, I mentioned to Scott the hopelessness of Sylvia’s situation with the rains being just around the corner.  Scott offered to come along with me as I wanted to give Sylvia some money to help relieve the financial burden of her next bus journey with Jenny to Guatemala City.  Scott was lost for words when seeing firsthand the dead end that Sylvia had reached.  Something had to be done.  At camp, Scott explained Sylvia’s situation to the visiting students.  They immediately offered the cash that they had on hand to help build a secure shelter for Sylvia and her children.  Armed with picks and shovels, the Denis Morris crew were eager to start building the house the following morning as they only had ten days to complete the project.

The Niagara youth immediately fell in love with Sylvia’s children.  For days they worked hard, sweating under the intense Guatemalan sun in order to carve out a flat section on the tiny parcel of mountain slope that Sylvia owned, on which to build a new home for her.  The foundation was dug.  Sand and gravel was hauled up to the building site.  The building blocks and steel that were bought in the town of Jalapa were also brought to the work site.  A few local masons were found and the building was under way!

The students’ money and time quickly ran out.  With tears in their eyes at not being able to finish the commitment that they had begun and at having to say good-bye to Sylvia, Jenny and the rest of the children, the students made me promise that I would make sure that the house for Sylvia would be finished, no matter what the cost!  They would immediately start fundraising activities back in Niagara to get the rest of the needed money.

When I now reflect on the sequence of events that took place; the Niagara students missing their flight twice, Sylvia’s family being introduced to us after the flights were cancelled, the School Board allowing the trip to happen during the regular school week, the tremendous impact that Sylvia and her family had on the youth, I cannot help myself but to ponder “was there someone at work behind the scenes making the impossible possible?