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

A simple coat of paint is beyond financial reach of Guatemala students

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Despite the long-term damage caused by Hurricane Mitch, the people of Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, remain committed and optimistic. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

“The people of Ixtahuacán have made an enormous effort to keep the school here.... I think it’s an heroic effort on their part, and shows their deep concern for education.”

— Father David Baronti

Ten years ago, Hurricane Mitch invaded Guatemala. High winds, coupled with a deluge of rainwater, washed out homes, crops, roads, and bridges. Parishioners may recall that Spokane parishes volunteered medical supplies at the time, and the Diocese of Spokane provided $25,000 in relief assistance.

Father David Baronti, the Spokane Diocese priest serving in Guatemala, knows all too well the damage caused by the devastating storm. Hurricane Mitch parked over his mountain village of Ixtahuacán, 7,500 feet above sea level, for more than 12 hours.

Following the storm, about 500 of the 600 Mayan Indian families of his village packed their meager belongings, and moved out to what they thought was “safer” land. With them went the “official” records of the town, the statues from his church of Santa Catarina, and most of the life of the village.

Now, after some depressive years, conditions are changing for the families that remained in Ixtahuacán, and the thousands of others in the surrounding mountains. Roads are being improved, the local market has come back to life, schools are reopening, and some new construction is even underway.

The restoration has not come easily. In particular, funds for community needs, such as schools, have not been forthcoming to Old Ixtahuacán. International assistance has flowed more readily to the families who elected to move to the more publicized communities, rather than to those natives who “rode out the storm” and stayed on their land.

In addition to displacing nearly three quarters of a million people throughout the country, Hurricane Mitch destroyed or damaged many schools. In assessing the local school situation, Father Baronti has pointed out that “The people of Ixtahuacán have made an enormous effort to keep the high school here. Before the relocation, they received [some help with] funds from Europe. Now they must maintain the school by themselves, with fewer families to support it.”

The public school, which has only 25-30 students, is just a short walking distance out of Ixtahuacán. Given the absence of other help, the students have taken it upon themselves to remedy the situation. In the words of another:

“The school does look pretty bad. It has had runoff from the roof running down the exterior walls for some time. It looks like oil has been poured down the walls, but that is mold. The students have worked to fix the runoff problem, and now they want to repaint. The students would do the work.”

New paint would encourage the students and brighten their days. Gabriel Ortiz, the director (magesterio) of the school, has estimated that the cost for paint would be about $600. But Ixtahuacán is a poor community and cannot afford such funds. So Gabriel is looking elsewhere. Given the close relationship that parishioners in Ixtahuacán have enjoyed with their counterparts in Spokane, he has asked a representative of the Guatemala Commission to consider helping cover the cost of the paint.

This need lies beyond the projected funds available from Spokane parishes and budgeted by the Guatemala Commission for the current fiscal year. Nevertheless, the students would be most grateful for any help from individuals in the Spokane Diocese.

Donors may send their contribution to the Guatemala Commission, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210. Please include a note that your gift is a special donation to help students cover the cost of “Paint for School in Ixtahuacán.”

(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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