Escuela Integrada family loses mother to illness, needs prayers and support

On Sunday, August 6, eleven volunteers accompanied an Escuela Integrada family on the long, slow, steady walk from the funeral of their mother to her burial site. Maria, 37 at the time of her death, leaves behind four girls—Maria Fernanda, 11, Evelyn, 9, Norma, 8, and Anita, 4. The three older girls are students at Escuela Integrada, and Anita will join them when she is old enough.

Each girl, dressed in a traditional corte, huipil and faja, laid white roses across their mother’s grave. Maria died Saturday morning of an unknown illness.

Maria and Jose stand with their four girls in the space they rented on July 4, 2017. Photo: Juliana Anderson.

Maria never went to a doctor because going to the doctor would mean missing a day of selling tortillas, the family’s only reliable income. Her husband and the girls’ father, Jose, works farming jobs when he can find them, but does not have a steady income. Both parents are illiterate and Maria spoke very little Spanish.

Until Saturday, the family rented a space near Calle Ancha where they lived and sold tortillas. Maria also made the tortillas for the school meals, feeding roughly 200 kids, teachers, staff, and, oftentimes, the volunteers who visit Escuela Integrada.

Jose, inconsolable, sat next to the light purple casket during the funeral. He hugged each volunteer as they arrived and invited them to view Maria’s body. Jose asked the volunteers to sit near the front of the church with the family. Norma sat on Lauren’s lap and Anita slept in Hannah’s arms, both worn down from the preceding 36 hours.

The four girls were with Maria as she passed from this life into the next, sitting at her bedside at 2 a.m. Saturday when she died. At four, eight, nine and 11, that is a heavy load. They will grow up remembering the day they watched their mother die.

The pastor prayed over the family and for the eternal rest of Maria. Jose’s sister expressed her thanks for the “brothers and sisters from the United States,” and “the Gringos” who came to be with the family on the day of their loss.

At the conclusion of the service, everyone stood to pray together. Maria’s family, who traveled from the far north region of Quiché, spent the final few moments around her casket, and a deep, sorrowful wailing echoed through the simple cement structure.

Though different in height, language and skin color, everyone, Gringos and Guatemalans, exited the church with the casket and walked together through the streets of Parramos in compassionate support for the family.

Escuela Integrada volunteers walk with friends and family from the funeral to the burial site on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. Photo: Mike Neubauer.

The girls and their father will live with family in Paramos for a while, which puts them about 30 minutes away from the school. A chicken bus will be their only accessible mode of transportation. Education is the sole way out of the poverty that traps families in Guatemala. While the hope is that the girls continue going to school, the reality is they may have to work to help the family survive.

On August 14, a mission team from Lifeonaire will arrive in Guatemala to help the school. Every year, they build a house for an Escuela Integrada family. The family this year is Maria’s family. They planned this long before anyone knew how precious the timing would be.

The service of every single volunteer who walks with this family is something the girls and the family depend on. The girls love their padrinos and madrinos (their sponsors in the U.S.) and all of the people who work at Escuela Integrada. The teachers, staff and you, their prayerful supporters, mean the world to them.

Please keep this family in your prayers as they begin what will be a very difficult chapter. Their livelihood is unknown with their income in question, and the girls’ future is fragile. Pray for healing, pray for strength and pray for Jose, that he may continue to believe in education.

To help this family, we invite you to prayerfully consider making a donation to GRACES. Through your support, we can and will walk hand-in-hand with their family.

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