Despite severe physical challenges, 13-year-old Manuel is living out his God-given potential, thanks to his parents' love, the inspiring beauty of his surroundings, and the generosity of his World Vision sponsor. (SLIDESHOW)
Despite the fact that he's virtually unable to use his hands or feet, 13-year-old Manuel is a budding artist. Here, he uses his mouth to paint a scene from his village in western Guatemala — a place of rugged, majestic natural beauty. The boy credits his loving parents and World Vision sponsor for enabling him to pursue his God-given talents in spite of the special challenges he faces.
© 2007 Cecilio Martinez/World Vision
Manuel Yojcom Mendoza is unable to bathe or feed himself. But that doesn't stop the 13-year-old from living life more fully than many adults.
Born with a congenital defect that has left his arms and legs virtually unusable, the determined teenager is a bright student and a budding linguist. He also is a talented artist who has achieved local acclaim in the lakeshore Mayan villages dotting Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) in western Guatemala, where he lives.
Clenching a paintbrush between his teeth, Manuel recreates on canvas the lush volcanic mountains that tower over the shores of a mile-high lake. "Whenever you feel you can't go on … just look at my paintings," he says.
Raw talent and drive aside, Manuel is aware that his remarkable achievements wouldn't be possible without the support of others. He is the first to credit his parents' loving devotion — and his generous World Vision sponsor — for enabling him to express his God-given gifts.
A flower at the lake
"I remember that my mom used to carry me every day to go to school; now, it is easier," he says, referring to the wheelchair that has improved his mobility. His U.S. sponsor provided it to him two years ago through the Cotz'ij Ya area development program in which Manuel is enrolled. (Cotz'ij Ya, translated from the indigenous Tzutujil language, means 'Flower at the Edge of the Lake.')
Manuel lives in San Juan La Laguna, one of 12 villages perched on the shores of bucolic Lago de Atitlán, a water-filled caldera known for its lush, colorful vegetation. Tropical paradise that it may be, however, livelihood opportunities for the village's adult population are limited to peasant farming, fishing, or tourism.
Manuel's father, 52, who shares the same name, is one such farmer who grows maize (corn), a Guatemalan staple. His meager income barely stretches far enough to provide for his wife and four children. It certainly isn't enough to provide the added support his youngest son needs to flourish.
Slideshow: A brush with hope
View this presentation about how 13-year-old Manuel has developed his God-given talents in spite of severe physical impediments that have rendered his arms and legs unusable.
Through World Vision's sponsorship program, however, Manuel receives daily physical therapy at Xe'Kiyaqsiiwan ('Under the Hill') Rehabilitation Center. More than 50 people from the area's lakeside villages are served by the center, including 25 World Vision-sponsored youth.
"We are coordinating with this center to support the sponsored children [who] need special medical attention," explains Francisco Tepaz, World Vision's Cotz'ij Ya area director.
Manuel also has become computer-proficient at the center. He has learned to use a special mouse that allows him to navigate the Web using his lips, cheeks, and even his nose.
"I like to work on the computer; I can make letters and [do] my homework," says the resourceful youth. "At the beginning, it was very difficult for me to use the mouse, but my teacher helped me…"
Evangelina Mendoza has been Manuel's tutor for the past two years: "I am very happy to teach him new things. He is very intelligent, and every day he wants to learn more," she says.
'I want to be a famous artist'
Evenings may well be Manuel's favorite time of day, though. That's when his father arrives home from the fields and lays out his son's precious painting materials. Manuel's sponsor paid for the supplies to encourage the budding artist's gift.
Holding his paintbrush with his mouth, the teenager painstakingly works the canvas to illustrate the lush, wild beauty that surrounds his beloved lakeside home and inspires him so much.
"I want to be a famous artist [and] travel around the world to show my paintings," he says emphatically when asked about his dreams for the future.
"I dream to have my own computer at home, to search in the Web for pictures of countries, people, and places that I could paint," he concludes. "That way, I would be able to help my parents with home expenses..."
>> Download a YouTube video
of Lake Atitlán in western Guatemala.
>> Learn how World Vision sponsorship
can make a lasting difference for children, families, and communities.
Two ways you can help
>> Thank God for Manuel's family, his sponsor, and the many World Vision staff and associates who are helping to ensure that Manuel reaches his full potential. Pray for all youth enrolled in World Vision's sponsorship programs across the world to experience this same great gift — life in all its fullness.
>> Sponsor a child in Guatemala. Your love and support will provide that child with access to life-giving benefits such as clean water, nutritious food, and an education, helping to ensure that he or she can grow up to be a healthy and productive adult.