A recent email from Ellen Finn compelled me to write my first ever blog post. She writes:

Hey just got back from the coast. It was a Julie/family saludable day. Took two volunteer/donors with us. Put water filters in three shacks (one was made of plastic tarp and bean sacks) and two schools. Sent a woman to the hospital in an ambulance. Donated a mess of children’s clothing to 5 families, bought school supplies for two kids, delivered a sewing machine to our new program (there is a 5 year old begging to be in it, so Ingrid the teacher let him in and said he did great!!!), fed 5 starving homeless dogs (tell your animals so they know how lucky they are) visited a school to set up a dental program and delivered milk to that school. Heat was incredible… it’s starting warm season. On the way back we stopped a young woman in the garbage dump, climbing down the hill of trash amongst the vultures and dogs, with her baby on her back. We called her back up and donated clothes for her and the baby.

Thanks to you, Julie and your good neighbors!!!!!

In a follow up email when I couldn’t believe GNG had helped fund all of that, Ellen told me that it all cost about $150. $11 was for the ambulance ride by a friend of a friend who is a volunteer ambulance driver. He would take Concepción to the hospital to get stitches removed, wait for her and bring her home. She was going to take the bus ride from home and back over a pot hole ridden road.

Only a few of you have met Ellen Finn. She visited me in Maryland about six years ago, and Good Neighbors put on a Quarter Auction to raise money for a clinic on the Honduran/Guatemalan border. She spoke to kids at Severna Park Elementary School and made lots of new friends. I originally met Ellen through my brother who does medical missions in Honduras and did a Spanish language immersion in the town where Ellen lives. When he met her he knew he had to connect us. He said something to me like, “she is just like you, only in Honduras.” That is high praise indeed! Ellen and I were friends first through email almost instantly, and then through her visit, and since then through almost daily emails and monthly Skype conversations with her and her assistant, Juan. Ellen now lives in a house Juan built in a small, remote village in Guatemala, where she is much safer than she was in Honduras. Her programs in Honduras continue through various teachers, friends and volunteers. She visits occasionally and feels like she is going home, but she has been making enormous differences in Guatemala, and I am thrilled to do what I can to help.

One reason that I feel close to Ellen and believe so much in what she does can be gleaned by a quick read of her book, Emotional Witness, recently published and available on Amazon. Ellen’s efforts to help are part of her role as a member of the community, not an aid worker. Although she stands out as an American, she is imbedded in the area where she lives and an integral part of life there. Projects are taken on when effort by stakeholders is in some way demonstrated, no matter how small. Rather than handing out clothing or food, a small job is often given to a recipient, such as sweeping a school room, helping paint a bench for a school, etc., all in an effort to preserve dignity and integrity.

Good Neighbors has partnered with BV extensively over the past number of years. Most recently we have designed a program called Health Communities/Comunidades Saludables, aiming to provide families led by single mothers with emergency medicine and food and then to improve their living conditions by introducing water filters, modifying shelter to have roofs and walls that don’t leak, cement floors rather than dirt and mattresses that remain dry, keeping kids off of the dirt floors and wet mattresses. The new sewing program in Chicacao, a town with 60% unemployment, is an effort to provide families with potential income once they learn the craft, as well as being able to repair their own clothes and other items.

While I struggle to find opportunities and continue to seek out relationships locally where Good Neighbors can help boost people who are working to improve their lives, Ellen makes it easy to do so in Guatemala, and the cost is minimal by our standards. Even a collection of our spare change makes a big difference, which means EVERYONE can be a philanthropist.


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