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

Success of ‘El Maestro’ creates predicament for Guatemalan students

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 17, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Juan Ajpacaja got himself in for more than he had bargained for when he traveled to an isolated village in Guatemala to conduct a sewing course almost a year ago. Professor Ajpacaja, an accomplished teacher ()maestro) of the finer aspects of sewing, had been convinced to transfer some of his expertise to the native people in Tzamjuyub by Adela Tambriz, project manager for the Spokane-based Family-to-Family (AAF) program.

Although Tzamjuyub could almost be classified as an inaccessible area, it had a surrounding population of several thousand Mayan Indians, a small school, a store, and a trade center building — with electric lights. Moreover, the people of the community were anxious to learn, and enthusiastic about improving their lot in life. The Trade Center had already been the site of reading and writing activities, carpentry, embroidery, and introductory sewing classes. Beyond that, it was proudly equipped with 14 sewing machines!

Professor Ajpacaja began his course on Friday, March 23, with 15 students, two-thirds of whom were women. His first status check was on their qualifications to insure they could make measurements, do basic calculations, and follow instructions.

Over the next nine months, Professor Ajpacaja’s students met three days a week. That was not always easy to do. For heads of households, that meant taking time from other activities, such as gathering firewood and losing the $1.50 income that the day’s work might provide. But with support from their families (and AAF) the students were able to tap into Professor Ajpacaja’s knowledge, and assimilate some of his expertise.

The first class project was learning how to make pants (pantalones). Following this the diligent trainees took on the project of making finely-tailored shirts and blouses for the entire group of 65 youngsters preparing to receive their First Communion in December. The goal proved to be achievable. By the December deadline, all the clothing items were not only completed, but they were done with the professional style that marked Professor Ajpacaja’s work.

However, as Professor Ajpacaja’s eager students neared completion of their course work, an unexpected challenge began to emerge. Had he read some comments made previously by Father David Baronti, he might have expected the problem.

In speaking about the response of Tzamjuyub people to earlier AAF projects, Father Baronti said he “witnessed so many marvelous things happening” in Tzamjuyub that it was “impossible to define.” Thanks to the diocesan and AAF programs, he observed, “Five years ago no one (in Tzamjuyub) could read a telegram. Today not only are the children learning to read, but every adult member of the program is now, too, attending classes....”

Father Baronti went on to point out that the vocational training programs, in which many of the [nearby] population participate, exhibit a chemical, or catalytic effect, wherein “the participants of the programs each give the others ideas and stimulate them to expanded goals.”

For Professor Ajpacaja, the students natural extension of the course came in the form of their entreating him for individual sewing machines. Now that they had worked so long to develop sewing skills, they wanted machines to take to their own homes so they could move on to the next step in self-sufficiency, i.e., that of doing entrepreneurial sewing activity in their homes.

With three more students added to the program, Professor Ajpacaja is now in search of funding for 18 sewing machines. Because the homes in Tzamjuyub do not have electricity, the machines need to be treadle style — foot-powered. This type of old-fashioned sewing machine is available in Central America, at a cost estimated by the professor at about $100 each. Taxes and transportation of the machines to Tzamjuyub could add another $20, so the total would be about $120 per sewing machine.

After the December celebration of First Communion, Professor Ajpacaja asked visitors from Spokane if they knew of any way to help him out of his predicament. His class was so successful that his students want to move on to sewing activities as a means of earning a livelihood. However, they are all too poor to purchase their own machines; $120 represents several months of wages to them. Was there any way Spokane could help?

The total cost of $2,160 for the 18 sewing machines may be more than one Spokane donor would care to commit. However, 18 contributions of $120 each would also solve Professor Ajpacaja’s dilemma.

If you are interested in helping, please send your tax-deductible donation to AAF Sewing Machine Fund, c/o Guatemala Mission, Diocese of Spokane, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210-1453. Please include your name and address so that the person receiving the machine can send you a personal note of thanks. This type of one-to-one friendship is important to the people in Tzamjuyub.

(Jerry Monks is director of the Adopt-A-Family Program.)

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