Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Guatemala ministry coordinators visit Spokane Diocese
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 14, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Jorge and Natalia Deleon of Guatemala visited the Spokane Diocese recently. The couple are part of the Family-to-Family ministry projects in the Guatemala Highlands. (IR photo)
Family-to-Family, an outreach program to the Mayan Indians living in the mountainous region of northern Guatemala, has been in existence since 1985, helping to improve the lives of hundreds of poor families. Families and individuals in the Diocese of Spokane donate money each month over a set period of time to help a family in Guatemala become self-sufficient. Or, they donate money to support self-help projects in Guatemala, such as cooking and carpentry classes, reforestation projects, furniture-making classes, or a trout farm. At present, Family-to-Family is helping 124 families in Guatemala to become self-sufficient over a period of three years.
Natalia and Jorge Deleon, who serve as coordinators for Family-to-Family in Guatemala, visited Spokane recently and stayed with Jerry and Clara Monks, co-founders of Family-to-Family and members of St. Thomas More Parish. The Deleons are members of a large Catholic parish in Guatemala City. Natalia works for an international geothermal energy company, and Jorge is a mechanical engineer who owns an automobile repair business with 14 employees. The Deleons have worked with the Family-to-Family program since 1990, when Healing the Children sent their daughter to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane for heart surgery. Jerry and Clara Monks, volunteers with Healing the Children, were foster parents for the Deleons’ daughter while she was being treated.
Natalia Deleon recalls: “After three months our daughter came back to Guatemala, and suddenly I received a phone call from Clara telling me, ‘Natalia, we need to talk to you because we have such a problem in Guatemala, and we need to see if you would be interested to help.’ So we had a meeting with Family-to-Family people who came to Guatemala. We had a meeting, and we talked about what I could do, and I started working, traveling once a month to the highlands. The first time I was traveling, Clara was with me, and she showed me all the ways to get there. I met Father (David) Baronti, and others working there.”
For the first few years, Natalia worked alone, but five years ago, Jorge got involved, too. Once a month, the couple makes the three-and-a-half hour drive to the highlands to keep track of what is happening with various Family-to-Family programs, including the trout program. They make reports on progress being made with the programs and on funds that are needed for materials, training, and maintenance. “We travel once a month, on Sunday,” Natalia says. “We leave very early and we come back very late.” She spends another five hours on the program each week, “making my reports and other things.”
Jorge takes phone calls from restaurants and hotels on the Interamerican (formerly the Panamerican) Highway between the highlands and Guatemala City, and in Guatemala City itself. These customers buy fish from the Family-to-Family trout farm project. Jorge makes sure that the fish are delivered fresh and on time. A Korean restaurant in Guatemala City wants the trout delivered alive, so that adds a unique twist to the delivery process. Jorge also is responsible for paying the salaries of the people who work at the trout farm.
Natalia says that when she and Jorge make their weekly long drive into the highlands they value the driving time as an opportunity to talk with each other. Also, they usually take their two daughters, ages 16 and 10, with them. “They have learned a lot of things,” Natalia explains, “sharing with the children there and learning what we are doing. Sometimes they don’t understand. They ask, ‘Mommy, why did you buy such a box of candies? We don’t need that.’ I say, ‘No, it’s not for you.’ ‘Oh, it’s for the children there.’ ‘Yes, my dear, those are for the children there.’ So they get involved in a way, and they are understanding more and more what we are doing.”
The trout farm in turn supports other Family-to-Family projects that help people learn skills they can use to support themselves. These include an embroidery project, a reforestation project, and a sandal making project. Natalia Deleon explains that reforestation has become one of the main sources of income for whole families who work on this project. “We started a reforestation project ten years ago,” she says, “and it was very important and necessary. We have planted thirty-five acres of trees on community lands, and some of them were lands from the church. Last year, we were the best reforestation project in the whole area, and this year Adela Tambriz, the manager of the Family-to-Family program, will receive an award from the government for this project.”
Natalia Deleon describes how the families enrolled in the Family-to-Family program change from the beginning through the end of the third year of the process. “The first year you see them they are very, very poor. The next year you see them, they are better. And the third year, wow, they have changed a lot. Their faces and their clothes are different, so much better. You see the changes in their lives, the ways they have improved.”
Natalia and Jorge Deleon explain that they are motivated to be involved with the Family-to-Family program by their faith. “We do it,” says Jorge, “to help our own people.”
“Not only that,” Natalia adds, “but because my life has been blessed with these two” – she gestures toward Jerry and Clara Monks – “and with so many others. This has become a part of my life.” At this, both the Deleons and the Monks have tears in their eyes. “It’s important for many people to know what is being done in Guatemala,” Natlalia says, “so they can know that their contributions are helping people who need it.”