Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ecuadorian health care, what can I say?

On Sunday, two weeks ago, Jomayra stood in front of her church family and shared her testimony of deciding to go her own way instead of God’s way. It was really touching and I admire her and her courage so much. She spoke with grace and humility and her words were powerful. She shared her repentant heart in a simple, transparent way. I was moved by what she did. It took a lot of guts to get up in front of everyone and share her situation and her feelings about it. Yes, she made some decisions that she regrets (haven’t we all?), but I see a woman of character in her. I see strength and humility and courage. I see genuineness and vulnerability and honesty. I see a lot of what I want to be in her attitude and that’s such a blessing. I think it could have been a lot worse for her. She could have chosen to live in shame and embarrassment forever, shutting herself off from her friends and her church, building up a wall between herself and God, feeling like she let him down and the baby she’s now expecting is nothing more than a consequence of her actions. But that is not the decision she’s made. I think making bad choices is a part of life (an unfortunate part). And I think sometimes when we do choose foolishly, we feel like any credibility we may have had as image-bearers of God is gone. But I see firsthand in Jomayra that sometimes the best witness we have is what we do and how we respond after making a decision that caused us to stumble or fall. Jomayra made it clear that she wants to make wise choices from here on out and shared how she feels that the child she is expecting is a gift from God; a blessing, not a consequence and asked her church family to help her to raise her child in God’s love and in His ways. I thought that was really neat. Thank you for your prayers for her!

Well, I moved back to El Recreo last week, back to Gregorio’s house. I felt I accomplished all that I wanted to in Los Samanes, and it was time to come back to Recreo. I was going to post a blog last week and then BAM…strep throat.

No kidding, the two times in my adult(?) life that I have had strep throat, it has been the worst pain imaginable. Is it just me? I don’t know. It was awful. I had a 103 fever for two days that sporadically dropped down to 101 and then back up again. I had shooting pain in all the muscles in my legs, back and neck. I couldn’t sleep at all for two nights straight. Oh, plus, I’m in South America…so basically, I thought this was the end for me. It was fear, not a sudden burst of energy, that got me up out of bed on Saturday morning asking where I could find some medical attention. I was directed to the clinic here in El Recreo and Kathy (Gregorio’s niece) walked with me the six or so blocks to the clinic. We went in and there was no one waiting so the nurse asked me right away what was the trouble. I told her I had a fever and what looked and felt like an infection in my throat. She asked me where I was from and when I had arrived in Ecuador and then left the room after I answered. She came back a couple minutes later and sat down and explained to me that basically the clinic would not help me because I came from a country where there are cases of the Swine Flu, and that I came to Ecuador around the same time the outbreak happened. She said I needed to go to the hospital in Guayaquil and get tested for Swine Flu before anybody could do anything for me. So…that was great.

Ismael took me to the hospital a few hours later. We had to wear surgical masks as a precaution when we arrived. There was a free clinic trailer outside and we went there first. I walked right in, no waiting, sat down across from the doctor, told her the exact same thing I said at the first clinic—I have a fever and what looks and feels like an infection in my throat. She asked me to pull down my mask so she could look at my throat, she took one look at it for about a second and a half and said, “yeah that looks bad” and then pulled out her prescription pad, wrote three different prescriptions, strangely enough not a single one of which was for more cow bell, and told me to take them inside to the pharmacy. I went in to the pharmacy, stood in line behind three people, got up to the front of the line, handed my prescriptions to the pharmacist, and in about one minute the medicine was in my hands. The only thing was that one prescription called for one pill every six hours for seven days and the free clinic pharmacy only gave me half the amount of pills necessary to complete that. So we had to stop at a regular pharmacy on the way back home.

Total cost of my doctor visit:

Round-trip bus fare for two: $1.20

Antibiotics: $3.36

Racial discrimination: priceless

Someone thinking I had Swine Flu: also priceless

Here’s the other thing…besides being able to purchase antibiotics over the counter at any pharmacy, when prescribed four injections-one daily, you are expected to purchase your own syringes at the pharmacy as well and just go ahead and inject yourself. I did not purchase syringes or inject myself. Ismael’s mom is a nurse and she did it for me. I probably would have really screwed that up. Anyway, I’m feeling much better now. The fever is gone as is the strep throat and now I’m only a little sore in my little backside from the four consecutive shots.

So now, after such an unproductive week, I need to really get back in the swing of things. I'm meeting with Becsy on Friday to interview her. She is a candidate for the University Project. Hopefully that will go well and I can write up a really good bio of her to share based on the interview. She wants to study dentistry. I hope we will find a sponsor for her.

Please pray for me to be able to make up for the lost time, and for me to stay healthy from now on!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I took roughly three years of gen. ed. :-(

For the last two weeks now, I have been staying in Monica's house in the town of Los Samanes (about 45 minutes away from El Recreo, in the city of Guayaquil). Before coming down to Ecuador, I was put in contact with some missionaries here in Guayaquil who have been very helpful in this quest for information. They arranged with Monica (who attends a church they work with here in Los Samanes) for me to stay with her a while while I do some research.

I have been able to find out a ton about the school system here, both at the university level and the high school level. Here is some of the information I have discovered:

There are six universities in Guayaquil. The one that our students from El Recreo attend is the University of Guayaquil, the equivalent of a state college. The other schools are private universities and are much more expensive, so I have limited my research to just the University of Guayaquil since that's the one we'll be dealing with. Students who attend the other universities more than likely don't need the financial help.

Last year in September, President Rafael Correa proposed a new constitution for the country and the citizens voted a big Yes to put it into effect. One change that has come along with that constitution is that education is now supposedly "free" for all students. The University of Guayaquil is the only school so far to implement this change. All students who enroll now do not have to pay tuition, however they do still pay for all materials, transportation, books, etc. They begin by enrolling in the Pre-Universitario which is basically a two-month long entrance exam. They have to take classes for two weeks at a time on various subjects depending on their major, and then each class is followed by an exam. They must pass the Pre with a grade average of 7.0 (their grading system is a little different-their scores are all out of 10, not 100. And they don't do "grade points" like we do. Why do we do grade points anyway?). If they pass with the 7.0 or higher, they can enroll in the first year of their major. Most majors are 4-5 years long. The first two years are all lower-division and the last 2-3 years are the upper-division classes. They basically do all thier general education during the Pre-Universitario. The last year of their education (for all majors) is spent doing a thesis involving some kind of internship and huge paper. Once they finish their thesis, they will have a degree in their major.

The free education is really more like a scholarship. How it works is that they basically get one chance for the free education. If their grade average drops below 7.0, then they have to begin paying tuition. Also, if they switch majors and start over again with a different Pre-Universitario, they must pay tuition. That's what happened with our friend, Gabriel. He started off studying computer engineering and after a while he switched to basic education. He now pays $30 a month in tuition and is not sure yet if that number increases with each year of study.

From what I understand, now that there are more students taking advantage of the free education, the professors are making it more difficult to pass the Pre. This, in my opinion is good. If it's harder to pass, then the students who do pass are obviously the students who want to be there. I'd rather be in a class full of students who want to be there than a class full of students who are just wasting everybody's time. However, part of the student commitment in the University Project program is to maintain the 7.0 grade average in order to continue receiving support. I think we'll need to take into consideration the increased difficulty in the classes and take it on a case-by-case basis if students in the program should have trouble maintaining the average.

Like our system, each major (carrera) is part of a larger department (facultad). Unlike our system, each department is basically its own school. Each department has its own building and the students whose majors are in that department don’t have classes in any other building than that one. So, for example, basic education (which Gabriel studies...we will be looking for a sponsor for him soon) and kindergarten education (Karen's major...she is already sponsored), both are in the Department of Philosophy and Arts, but they are completely separate majors. Unlike our system, students here in one major will never take classes with students in a different major. So Karen and Gabriel, even though they study in the same department, will never be able to take the same classes at the same times. That's kind of a bummer because it's always fun to take classes with your friends. Also, students in the same major but in different years will never take the same classes at the same times either. That is because the school determines a student’s schedule. Unlike our schools, where we choose our classes and our schedules each semester, the only choice these students have is whether they study in the morning or in the afternoon. (And even in some departments, they don’t really have that choice either. For example, in the science, math, and physics department (where Ismael studies), in order to study in the afternoon/evening, you have to bring a note from your job (which I believe is the only acceptable excuse) that says you are unable to study in the morning. Otherwise, the department gives each student their schedule for each semester and they can either take it or leave it. Not much in the way of flexibility…but I suppose on the upside, at least it’s a guarantee that each student will graduate within the amount of time that their studies are supposed to last. Michele, how long were you in school for your bachelor's degree again? Was it six years, like me? :-)

Well, my quest for information continues. What other questions would you ask? Let me know, your questions will help me!

Thank you for your prayers for Jomayra. She and I are meeting together on Wednesdays at 11 to do a Bible study. Please keep her in your prayers!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Prayers for Jomayra

A few days ago, I went to see my friend, Jomayra. She was one of the original candidates for the University Project program. She hadn't started school yet because of some problems she was having here while I was in the U.S. but we were hoping to be able to support her in her studies next year. I kept in contact with her while I was away, and I thought I would see her in the church when I came back, but I hadn't seen her yet and on Thursday I had such a strong urge to see her and find out how she was doing. So I went across town to her house.

I knocked on the door. Her brother answered and showed me in. He let me know she was back in her room in the back and that I should go back there. I walked in and Jomayra was sitting on her bed, still in her pajamas, looking a little sick. I hugged her and asked how she was doing and where she'd been the last couple weeks. She said, "you haven't already heard?" I think I knew in that moment what she was going to tell me.

I told her no I hadn't heard anything, and asked if she was ok. "Oh're going to kill me. I don't know how to tell you." After a long time of not wanting to say, only telling me she feels so ashamed, she said, "Amy, I'm pregnant."

Jomayra is not married, and from what I understand, the relationship she is in, on top of being a kind of "rebound" relationship, isn't the healthiest, most stable relationship out there.

I had no idea what to say. I had no idea what she needed to hear. She kept talking, telling me how wrong her decision was and how guilty she felt. She shared that she felt she could never show her face in the church again. She is afraid of what people will say, or not say. She is afraid to face her pastors and tell them what's happened. She told me she's been asking God for forgiveness and she knows that He forgives, but that she can't help but feel so guilty. She shared with me that she was reading her Bible and happened to be reading about one of the many instances in which the children of Israel rebelled against God and were unfaithful to Him. She felt like she was reading about herself. She felt that everytime God said to His people, "you've disobeyed, you have rebelled, you have turned your back on Me" it was as if the Word was speaking to her, "you've disobeyed, Jomayra. you have rebelled, Jomayra. you have turned your back on me, Jomayra." What could I say?

I didn't think it necessary to tell her the decision she had made was not ok. Pretty sure she already gets that. I prayed in that moment for God to tell me what to say to her. All that came to my head was to just tell her that yes, though she was disobedient, that does not change God's love for her. God still calls her his child, and Himself her father. God knew before she was born the choices she would make and the consequences she would face, and that never stopped him from wanting a relationship with her; from calling her His daughter. I told her I can't imagine what she is feeling, because I have not been through what she is going through, but that she is not alone; that I love her and care for her, and am here when she needs me.

Do you know what she said? She said, "Amy, I knew you were here, I knew you got here a couple weeks ago and I wanted to see you. I wanted to be with someone who would tell me the truth and make me feel loved. But I have been so sick, I haven't been able to leave my house. This morning I prayed that God would help me to feel better so that I could go out and see you. And after I prayed that, you knocked on my door."

I feel like God, even in our rebellion and moments of hurt and despair...even when that despair comes from the knowledge that we have been unfaithful to so good to us; is always working on our behalf, always giving us what we need. He is so faithful, even in our unfaithfulness. It never ceases to amaze me. I guess I'm still waiting for that moment to come when what I've done or what someone else has done is too much, and God leaves me to myself. But that moment never comes. He is always faithful to forgive and to love. It is amazing, the love of the God we serve.

Jomayra told me that she remembered me saying months ago, that I wanted to do a Bible study with her when I came back. She told me she would like to do that if I still wanted to. I know God has me here for a purpose, and I hope I can always come through for Him. I do want to spend time with Jomayra, studying God's word. I don't want satan to get in the way of that. I want to ask for your prayers-that Jomayra will feel the love of God; that from here on out, she will make wise decisions that glorify the Lord; that she will choose to raise her child in His love and in His way; that she will have the support and love of her church, and not feel abandoned or rejected there. Please pray that God will use me in whatever way He will so that she will know His love for her. Please pray that we will have plenty of opportunities to meet together and that we will make the time to spend in prayer and in the Bible together, and that we will both grow because of it.

What can I say to her? What can I do for her? Have you ever been in her position or know someone who has? What did you/they need to hear? Have you been in mine? What did you say? What do you wish you would have said? What would you say to Jomayra? What would you do for her?