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

Maria’s story: Support means success and health in the Guatemala highlands

by Sister Immaculata Burke, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 16, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Happy preschoolers take a moment from their busy day to pose with their teacher and demonstrate their smiles. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

The Health and Development Program of the Diocese of Sololá, Guatemala, owes much to the prayerful support and constant generosity of the people of the Diocese of Spokane. Not the least among our benefactors are those faithful contributors to Dr. Jerry and Clara Monks’s “Adopt-A-Family” program.

This program can sincerely boast of many success stories in terms of human development. One in particular I would like to share with you.

In 1994 a young Indian girl, Maria, graduated from high school. Less than a week later her mother, somewhat annoyed, brought her in to one of our prenatal clinics, insisting her daughter “got pregnant.”

On examination, it did not take Dr. José Miguel and myself many minutes to conclude that poor Maria was by no means pregnant, but very obviously extremely ill – probably with uterine cancer.

We left Maria and her mother to quietly wait in our offices while we attended to the rest of the patients. Then we calmly confronted them with the possible diagnosis and suggested that we immediately take Maria to a hospital in Quetzeltenango for further evaluation.

Her mother would not agree and continued to accuse Maria of “being pregnant.” Only when we were forced to threaten that Maria would surely die if she did not receive prompt treatment did the mother agree to talk to her husband. She refused my offer to drive them back to their home. She was just one frantic soul whose whole attitude indicated that she did not believe a word we told her!

I could not sleep that night, thinking of Maria’s dilemma. Next morning I drove up to their house, only to find the situation had worsened. Now the father suspects that Maria’s “condition” (as he referred to it) is the result of her relationship with one of the youths in her graduation class. The mother even suspects that the father is guilty!

I refused to leave the house, and I will spare you the details of what went on among us during the next three hours. However, by afternoon I had managed to persuade the parents to accompany Maria and me to an obstetrician in another town. There our diagnosis was indeed confirmed and immediate surgery recommended.

Next day Maria was admitted to the hospital where, at age 19, she went through the traumatic experience of a total hysterectomy.

I am happy – more than happy – to relate that a few days after I took Maria home from the hospital, I had the privilege of kneeling with the entire family as father and mother begged her pardon for having so harshly judged her.

For the next two years Maria underwent periodic chemotherapy in the cancer hospital in Guatemala City. By 1997 there was no further evidence of cancer, and she is only obliged to return every year for a checkup.

From now on, Maria’s story, as I like to call it, gets better and better.

In the meantime Maria went back to school – went off to boarding school, as a matter of fact – and last year graduated as a teacher. She was fortunate to get a position teaching first graders in a school near her home.

In May of this past year, with the help of Adopt-A-Family, the Sisters of Charity in New York, and friends in Pasco, Sister Marie Tolle and I opened an infant learning center for preschoolers in a village not far from where we live in El Novillero.

There, for three afternoons a week or so, children from ages 3 to 5 years old enjoy a variety of educational experiences under the guidance of an already much-loved, excellent teacher.

Yes, you have guessed it rightly: the teacher is Maria.

Before closing I would like to say that I learned a lot from Maria during those pain-filled days of 1994. Never once did she lash back at her family for misjudging her. She heroically accepted her illness and prayed that her parents would understand.

Maria is the second oldest of 11children. Her family would never have been able to afford the time or the money to cope with the crisis of her illness.

It is indeed a sobering, albeit rewarding, thought that Maria would not be alive today were it not for the timely support of Adopt-A-Family.

I thank God for Maria. I thank him, too, for the Adopt-A-Family program which allows us to participate in its most Christ-like movement of people helping people.

(Sister Immaculata Burke is a missioner in Guatemala.)

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