When we talk about poverty, we immediately think of financial poverty. Potter's House, an organisation working alongside the poorest communities in Guatemala City for 30 years, define eight different types of poverty. It isn't just money that matters.
Over the course of a week, a small team of us helped to build a new home for one family in Guatemala City. A small home. Extremely small by US standards, but with solid walls and basic facilities to replace the scrap metal and curtains that give shelter to most in these communities living adjacent to the city dump, one of the largest in Central America.
Potter's House have built 204 new homes in these communities with the help of visiting volunteers. Still relatively small scale, but that's only one aspect of their work. They also provide education to many of the local children, run sponsorship programs and provide micro-loans for new businesses.
I must also say at this point that I didn't do much of the building. I wanted to photograph but without being too isolated from the rest of the team. So I did do a little of the building, a little painting, and a little of the bed construction (we put together bunk beds for a few families too), but for the majority of time I was photographing, and many thanks to the rest of the team for making that possible.
As well as spending time with the family that we were building for, and playing games with the many kids who came to see what was going on, we were also able to visit some other families in the area to talk and pray with them. This was when it most became clear that the struggles aren't purely financial. They talked about depression and broken families, of struggling businesses and strained relationships. Pain and hardship, but familiar issues too - situations found in most communities, regardless of financial wealth.
The hardest conversation for me was with a woman who had lost her son in a homicide one month earlier. Her mother was in hospital fighting cancer and she had another son who was sick and likely to need a kidney transplant. She wept with us, but she wasn't giving up. She hoped she would be able to donate a kidney to her son.
That resilience was everywhere. Working long hours, often on the city dump in the hope of finding items to sell or recycle. Starting small business with micro-loans, trying to make sure the children are able to go to school. Community leaders with pages and pages of names of families in need of food that month.
And for as much as we wept with some, we smiled and laughed with others. There was no bitterness from the neighbors that we were helping one family and not them, just gratitude that we had come. I talked with one man on two of the days we were there. Not for long, really, but enough to care. He helped us carry our tools back on the last day and gave me his keyring with a picture of himself and his son. To remember.
It was a short visit but we learned a lot. I was struck by the beauty. It's not a clean or healthy place, and yet there are colors and smiles. A bit of dirt doesn't make a face less enthralling, or diminish the light and hope in the eyes. I've photographed many cities around the world, but few have been more beautiful.
Maybe we didn't change much, but then who knows when a small action or word can lead to something more significant. We shared a little time and effort, talked and listened and learned. It's not enough, but it's something.