Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of Guatemala:
They came today to mark the beginning of a program called Mi Familia Progresa (My Family Progresses, basically) in the municipality (though most people tend to call it “Mi Familia Pobreza” -My Family of Poverty around here…). This particular social welfare program is the pet project of the Primera Dama and is mainly aimed at improving education levels by providing monthly payments to poor families as long as all of their children continue to regularly attend school. This is a particularly important program for young girls who are often kept home to help assist with chores.
Of course, you can’t just start a program without shouting all about it. Especially when there’s an election year coming up. And especially when aforementioned Primera Dama is looking to run for president. So, people milled about all day yesterday and today trying to get their paperwork in order to make sure they would be included in the program or attempting to get their names on the lists for other goodies being handed out like molineros (grinders mainly used for corn to make masa for tortillas) or wheelchairs. Not surprisingly, the office was utter chaos. And there was very little I could do to help seeing as how my Spanish is still rough and I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand their “system” of filing things. Though I did feel bad everytime someone would approach me to ask a question or give me their paperwork and all I could offer them was a “Yo no soy secretaria” (I am not a secretary), shrug and give them a sad face.
I heard rumors that the Primera Dama was supposed to show up at 10, but apparently, election year or not, her posse still runs on hora chapina and didn’t roll up until 2. But the President was a surprise guest, so I suppose that bonus makes up for the tardiness. She hugged people in wheelchairs and babies and he made a short speech about how the country is changing and is on the brink of a wave of development and prosperity is coming and all sorts of inspiring stuff and then they were off again as quickly as they came. Which was kind of disappointing as I was hoping to get a personal picture with the pair of them to one up my fellow volunteer Justin who got a shot with the Primera Dama a few weeks ago. Oh well.
I have yet to form a personal opinion on the program. Mainly because the just the first stage has been such a circus. And I don’t mean the event today. The first step was to do a thorough census on the municipality in order to identify eligible families. Of course, rather than employing people from here to do it, they hired outside people (some from as far away as Peten). This didn’t strike me as a problem initially, coming from the land of fairly thorough public records and google maps, but in Guatemala, if you don’t intimately know the community, you are going to miss a whole mess of houses up in the hills, behind those trees and in the middle of that field. And, judging by the number of angry people who have been coming to the office lately, they did. And those are the people who probably need this program the most. So we’ll see what actually happens. Nevertheless, it was quite an event!