Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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

Hundreds of Guatemalans assisted by Adopt-A-Family

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

familyAntonio Ixmatá Guarchaj, 19, and his wife, Manuela Rosario Guarchaj, 20, have a one-year-old daughter. They are just one of the families who have been helped through Adopt-A-Family. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

The jungles and mountains of Guatemala are a far distant place to most of the Catholics in the Spokane Diocese. Since its brutal civil war of the 1980s ended – thousands of people were killed – the Central American country is not much in the news.

Guatemala may not be in the news, but efforts continue to bring a better standard of living to all its citizens. Most of the people in Guatemala are extremely poor. At the behest of Pope John XXIII, who encouraged Catholic dioceses and churches to reach out to the poor, the Spokane Diocese entered into a sister relationship almost 40 years ago with the Diocese of Solalá, Guatemala, located in the western mountains, one of that country’s poorest regions. Father David Baronti, a priest of the Spokane Diocese, has been the diocesan missionary in Guatemala most of those years, carrying on the missionary legacy.

The Guatemalans in the Solalá Diocese live a life that is hard to imagine. The people make their homes high in the mountains, almost two miles up, with few roads. Many of the roads are little more than dirt paths. Many Guatemalans in the diocese are illiterate. Some have farms, but often their crop yield lasts only part of the year. Malnutrition is common.

Many of the homes are in poor to deplorable condition, with dirt floors and straw roofs. Cooking is often done over an open fire on the floor, and the smoke causes lung and eye problems. The families use a public faucet. There are few latrines.

In 1985 a group of people at St. Thomas More Parish, Spokane, started a program called Adopt-A-Family to provide one-on-one attention to Guatemalan families. Jerry and Clara Monks, who are the program’s directors, learned of a similar program through Father Arnold Schoffel-meer, then St. Thomas More’s pastor.

U.S. families who signed up in the program would contribute a monthly amount, now $30, for the needs of a Guatemala family. Part of the money would be used for an immediate need, such as work training or a latrine. The rest would be saved for a long-term goal, such as a house or chimney. There were two Guatemala families involved that first year.

In the nearly 20 years since it began, AAF has helped 502 families, offering assistance and with it, hope for “a more human life,” as is written in the program’s mission statement. It has provided education, sanitation, job training, housing, health care, trees, trout, and even loans for families to start a business.

Some statistics from the 2002 annual AAF report tell the story.

Since the program began, a total of 409 houses have been built. The chimneys constructed number 261 and the number of latrines built, 152.

Presently there are 421 women in women’s classes on nutrition and health; 261 people are in classes to learn to read and write.

One of the hallmarks of the AAF program is the strict accounting of the donations received, thanks to Debbie Weber, volunteer CPA. A financial report is included in the annual report in the newsletter. Total amount of money received and distributed in 2002 was $85,699, about $5,000 less than 2001. When a family donates to a project or family, 100 percent of their gift is used for the intended purpose.

Some donors fund the administrative costs of the program; other donors contribute to other areas of the program’s work. Business manager Natalia deLeon and on-site program manager Adela Tambriz are paid staff. AAF director Jerry Monks praised the two women for their complete dedication. All the rest are volunteers.

The monthly AAF newsletters give progress reports about its various projects. AAF news also appears within the Inland Register.

One project this summer was to take four computers to the medical clinic (IR 7/31/03). This will greatly facilitate the medical care for the Guatemalans.

A project last year was to acquire sewing machines to teach the Guatemalan women to sew. The response for funds to buy the machines was “very generous,” Monks said.

“We wanted 18 machines, but we got enough money to buy 35.” The extra machines are given to women who complete the sewing program. The machines are powered by a foot-driven treadle and do not require electricity.

The trout hatchery is another success story. The state of Washington donates fish eggs (60,000 last time) which are taken to Guatemala to be hatched and raised. The trout are then sold to restaurants in Guatemala City and are becoming known for their excellent quality.

The Guatemalan families in the AAF program may be of another culture, but they are typical of families anywhere and have the same hopes and dreams.

One such family is Antonio Ixmatá Guarchaj, 19, and his wife, Manuela Rosario Guarchaj, 20, who have a one-year-old daughter. Both parents are literate and in average to fair health. They own 3/8 of an acre of land on which they grow corn and wheat that lasts from eight to ten months of the year. Antonio works as a laborer to earn about $50 a month, which covers only their most basic needs. Manuela weaves for her family and to make items for sale. She would like to participate in the bread-baking program. The couple needs repairs to their house, a sanitary latrine and installation of potable water and electricty. They would also like to buy more land.

Many U.S. sponsors have given assistance for years and years, Monks said. A Guatemalan family can only be in the AAF program three years and sponsors will almost always take another family when their current family is finished.

In Spokane, Lori and Marty Fritz are Guatemalan family sponsors. They got started “seven or eight years ago,” they said, because of the Monkses. Lori Fritz said that they were “blessed” in their financial situation and “we’re happy to help.” She likes how it’s not just giving a donation; “it’s helping build a better way of life.” She also likes the spiritual association of AAF’s work.

The Fritzes have two small children. Their latest Mayan family also has little children, which helps the U.S. family feel connected. The AAF newsletters provide another connection and also a “great reward,” Fritz said, to see how the families are being helped and how various projects undertaken by AAF are progressing. Sometimes at Christmas the Fritzes will receive a letter from their adopted family. “They’re always so appreciative,” she said.

What began in 1985 with two families has expanded to 119 families in 2002. Jerry Monks commented how much the people have progressed since then. “They do so much better,” he said. That’s because of people like the Fritzes who want to share their blessings. Their attitude was summed up by Lori Fritz: “It’s a great way to help.”

Persons who would like more information about Adopt-A-Family program can call the Jerry and Clara Monks at (509) 466-3995. Donations can be sent to the Adopt-A-Family program, 8112 N. Howard Dr., Spokane, WA 99208.

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