From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane support enriches many lives in Guatemala

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Juan Tziquin Coj lives in a remote mountainous area near Tzamjuyub in Northern Guatemala. His life isn’t really what one might call “easy.” But thanks to his own initiative, along with some help through the Adopt-A-Family program of the Diocese of Spokane, it’s a lot better now than it was three years ago.

Juan owns about three-quarters of an acre of land, which can produce only enough corn and beans to give his family a food supply for about seven months out of the year. Before entering the personalized three-year program, Juan also worked as a day laborer earning approximately $20 per month. With some earnings from his wife, Catarina, and their daughter, Isabela, their total monthly income was approximately $30 per month — not enough for a family to live on.

The Coj family lived in a one-room house with a straw roof and a dirt floor. There was no electricity, running water, furniture, or other things that seem so essential to us here in the States — such as a latrine. Light came from candles and dried wood. Catarina cooked on the ground over a stone slab. The one room served as both a kitchen and sleeping space. They couldn’t afford a bed, so the family slept on the dirt floor.

After being selected to participate in the Adopt-A-Family program, a plan of improvement was developed with Juan’s family. They started receiving about $20 of financial help each month and Juan and his wife began to participate in training programs designed to upgrade their self-supportive skills.

Juan’s annual progress reports tell a typical story of how his life changed. In his (translated) words:

“Last year we were unable to produce enough corn ... but this year thanks to your generosity and financial support, we bought fertilizer and used it in the crops of corn and lima beans, [and] ... experienced an increase of production.

“We accomplished the construction of a clean toilet.

“Thanks to the support of the program, we have planted 3 fruit trees and 100 other trees so our children may use them in the future for construction and other purposes.

“I participated in the carpentry course, and am now able — thanks to God — to build some pieces of furniture.

“We also constructed an oven to use for baking bread.”

Juan’s wife, Catarina, also immersed herself in the program. She attended literacy classes to learn how to read and write. She also attended cooking and sewing classes, and learned how to bake bread, so “we don’t have to buy bread at the market any more.”

The family is now eating “better balanced meals.” With the help they received they were able to purchase “shoes for the family ... school supplies for their children ... and thread to weave with.” Family life was gradually betting better.

Juan’s is just one of over 100 families that received individualized support from the program during the past year. Nearly all families used some of their funds for corn and beans, and many used some of the help for medicines. Clothing items, blankets, and sandals were also high on the list of priority needs.

Nearly 50 families purchased building materials and 40 built new houses. Nine families improved their water supply, nine got an energy connection, 22 constructed chimneys, and 47 got kitchen items.

In addition to participating in carpentry, furniture, sewing, baking, nutrition, reforestation, and alphabetization classes, several families embarked on self-supportive endeavors. Ten families went into domestic animal production, two started grocery stores, nine went into embroidery activities, nine into weaving activities, six into chicken production, three into pork production and seventeen into vegetable gardening.

The Juan Tziquin Coj family received their help under one of several different programs supported by the people of the Diocese of Spokane. Hundreds of Guatemalan families like the Coj’s have been helped by parishioners from Spokane over the past 40 years.

At first glance it may seem like the flow of benefits is a one-way street. But a visit to the mission area quickly reveals that is not the case. The thanks and prayers of gratitude that flow from the Guatemalan people to their “brothers and sisters” in the Spokane Diocese are obvious and overwhelming.

So who benefits most?

Fortunately, there is no scale to weigh the material versus the spiritual graces that flow in the different directions.

(Jerry Monks is coordinator of the Guatemala Mission effort for the Diocese of Spokane and a director of the Family-to-Family program.)

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