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

Guatemalan couple needs assistance to attain new support skills

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the May 23, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

At 35 years of age and pregnant with her first child, one might expect Antonia Otiz to be looking forward to some of the happiest years of her life. But instead of expectancy and jubilation, Antonia’s future borders on survival and despair.

Antonia lives with her husband, Francisco, in a small canton in Ixtahuacán, Guatemala. Both are illiterate. Their house is a one-room adobe structure with an old laminate roof and a dirt floor. Sister Immaculata Burke, a Sister of Charity nurse in the Spokane Mission, describes the condition of the house as “lamentable.” Cooking is done on the floor. There are no electric lights or other usual household amenities.

Cooking on the floor would not be much of a challenge for most Guatemalan women, even those who are six months pregnant. However, Antonia also has epilepsy. Her hands shake so much that she can barely complete normal daily tasks. She must depend upon Francisco, who now spends much of his time at his wife’s side.

Francisco, who is much older than Antonia, has not been spared from grief in the past. As an unskilled laborer he has been able to earn only about $16 per month. Unable to provide much in the way of food or medical care, he has already lost two wives to illness. Now, in addition to a wife with epilepsy, he must look forward to caring for a new baby in his one-room house.

Antonia’s predicament has captured the empathy of Sisters Immaculata Burke and Marie Tolle, who work with marginal families on a daily basis. Sister Immaculata’s words of lamentation reveal how automatically the nuns take ownership of the poverty problems they live with: “I don’t know what I’m going to do to help them.” The options appear limited.

Although the Sisters have provided some emergency medical and nutritional care, they realize that is not a solution. They know that Francisco will be unable to care for his wife and baby. Hiring a woman to help care for Antonia and the new baby would help, but Francisco has no funds to do that.

If Francisco or Antonia were able to participate in some training programs to develop new skills for self-support, their family could qualify for the Spokane Diocese’s Family-to-Family (FAF) program. They could then be matched with a sponsor and begin receiving a small monthly amount to sustain them while training was underway.

However, their situation lies outside the usual range of FAF programs. While FAF can provide some emergency aid for a short term, the emergency fund is not geared to handle longer term support for welfare situations such as this.

Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to this story – at least, not yet.

While Francisco and Antonia do not live in a country with safety net programs like Welfare and Medicaid, another possibility remains. If a volunteer were willing to make a commitment of $30 per month for a minimum of two years, FAF could initiate a special family assistance program for this family. This would enable the family to have some food, clothing, and medical care throughout the period of the birth and first year of the life of their new baby.

During that time, an FAF staff member could monitor the progress of the family on a regular basis.

If interested in helping, please call 466-3995 to arrange for your assistance.

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

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