As I climbed the stairs to the third floor of Toronja and entered the empty classroom, the contrast of this silent place with the first two floors of noisy joy hit me. I finally understood the burden that Tita had been carrying for years—at least a little.
When I first started working at Lemonade International, the fourth academy, Toronja, had just opened. Supporters came from all over the US to Guatemala to join with the Vidas Plenas team and celebrate the inauguration. And a month later I was privileged to meet teachers and students in some of the first classes in the 15 de agosto neighborhood.
As I got to know Tita and her heroic team, I was inspired by their sacrifice and courage, and I was quickly drawn into the love and support of Vidas Plenas that Lemonade International provides. But I also became frustrated that every time a sponsor committed to help one child, it felt like two more were added to a class. We opened the academy with four classes, but the start of the next school year was approaching, and we had the physical space to add a fifth. But the rate of growth in attendance was outpacing the financial support, and I was embarrassed that we weren’t keeping up. I told Tita that the wise decision would be to postpone adding the final class, and she told me that she would pray about it.
In my mind it was an issue of dollars and cents. If we don’t have enough money to sponsor the current number of kids, scholars, and teachers, then we shouldn’t add more, even if there is an available classroom. But as I sat that day staring into the empty room on the third floor of Toronja, it weighed on me like a ton of bricks. How dare I let this space go to waste. Who am I to put God in a box, and keep kids in situations of hunger, violence, and abuse simply because the financial support can’t keep up?
You see my dilemma? It’s not ultimately about an empty room – it’s about the healing, empowering, and mentoring that happens when a child living in La Limonada meets a teacher, a psychologist, a social worker, a chaplain, a nurse, a whole team of people who love them unconditionally. They are taught that they matter, that hope is possible, that they can take responsibility for their future, and it brightens and transforms the core of their very being. In fact it transforms the whole neighborhood. The room is just the tool. The Vidas Plenas staff is the change agent.
So as our plans are interrupted this year, and we adapt new tools as the academies are temporarily closed, help us prepare to re-open them with full classrooms by building on the relationships that are still making a difference, every day. The team is active, right now, bringing emotional and academic support to kids and their families, visiting the sick, and building relationships with the muchachos. There are kids in La Limonada eagerly waiting to enjoy that classroom, and they’re counting on your support.
Lasting transformation requires trusting relationships.
Help us show up in the darkest moments of suffering, sickness, and need.