by Bobby Marko
NASHVILLE, TN

I had a great Thanksgiving weekend. Got to sleep in a little bit, hang out with my wife and daughter, more this weekend than I have in the last few months! Got to see some family, be together and have some great food, got stuffed! I even did a little yard work, wow, where did I get the time??? And as the weekend started to come to a close, I reflected a little more on what it means to be thankful.

My wife, Susan, myself and Emily only were able to stay in Guatemala a week so we were able to spend Thanksgiving here at home with family and friends. But I found myself spending allot of time reflecting back on the week before while we were in Guatemala. One of the last days we were there, Amelia, Matt and myself were able to go into Guatemala City and have a chance to visit some ex-gang members who escaped the gangs in order to have a better life for them and their family. Our friends Joel and Ignacio picked us up that Friday afternoon and we went on our way.

While in the car, on our way to the first stop, Ignacio explained some of the challenges of getting these guys and their families on the right track. One of them being the discrimination from employers against people who have tattoos. Since tattoos are significant amongst gang members, employers do not hire people with them, fearing this would bring an unwanted presence into their company. But in most cases, that fear is unwarranted. For example, the first guy we met was gracious, humbled and you could tell he just had a desire to provide for his family. We sat down and spoke to him about what he does to make money. We’ll call him Jose (since these guys are still sought after by current gang members, we don’t want to publish his real name), Jose sells shoes. But because he doesn’t have a store, he has to sell them on the streets. Jose sets up his work area in a small hallway between his one bedroom apartment (which is about a 10×10 foot room where he and his wife, 2 year old little girl and 4 month old newborn all sleep) and the bathroom. He makes 60 pairs of shoes, on average, a day! Jose was gracious enough to allow us to watch some of his processes that go into making a shoe. He has very little tools, applies glue to the shoes with his fingers and works very fast! We were amazed by his speed and quality.

The next visit we made was a small inside shop where we saw 8 sewing desks with consumer grade sewing machines on top. In the room that was about 12X8 foot sat about 5 workers, all ex-gang members. The man in charge, we’ll call him Freddy, again, not his real name, him and his wife ran the shop. The shop had no windows and also served as his home residence for him and his wife. They lived and slept in a back room not much larger than a typical walk-in closet! However, as we spoke about their work and what their desires were, they lit up! They were so eager to just make quality clothing they could sell and be able to provide for themselves and the other people that were working with them. The problem was they spent so much time and money getting the machines, getting the materials, they didn’t know how to calibrate the sewing machines for the different types of material. I asked Freddy, how much would it cost to the machines calibrated. He told me it would be about $100 to have someone come out, calibrate the machines and show the workers how to do the calibration so they could do it themselves. I thought… $100… is that all it takes? Who do I make the check out to???

I was amazed that $100 is the only thing holding these people back from getting their feet off the ground. It also made me stop and think that in most situations, just a little nudge is all these people need. They are eager, willing to learn, wanting to work but they just need that extra little help to make it happen. Listening to these stories moved me, it got me thinking how easily $100 is easy to come by in the U.S. How most of us could sell something we own and get $100 easily. But for many people in Guatemala, who are trying to overcome their past, it’ so much! These are the stories that need to be heard.

I’m so thankful that we live in a country where opportunity is abundant, that I have the ability to travel to places like Guatemala and hear these stories, to have the freedom and the opportunities to do what I love for a living. I’m also thankful we can do so much for so many people if all we do is listen.

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