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

Guatemala development project provides fishy connections for many lives

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 2, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

In the photo at right, Mike Lewis, of the Little Spokane Hatchery, prepares to load a hand carrier with trout eggs for the Diocese of Spokane Mission in Guatemala. Each year the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife donates 60,000 trout eggs to the diocese. The trout project provides employment to several poor families of Mayan Indians living in the mountains of Northern Guatemala. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

What is the connection between a German tourist, a Central American restaurant, and the cool water of the Little Spokane River? Sounds like the relationship may be a little fishy – and it is.

But more entities could be included. Tack on a picnic cooler from REI and a bag of Fred Meyer ice. Then add more people: a retired woodworker in Spokane, a manager with the State of Washington, a nurse in Boise, a car wash operator in Spokane, an auto repair shop manager in Guatemala, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official, and so forth.

Although the actual network includes more entities, the above listing illustrates the wide range of resources, services, and personnel that sometimes need to come together to form a successful project. In this case, the “fishy” project involves raising trout in the Spokane Mission area in Guatemala.

Each year, the State of Washington, Department of Fish and Wildlife, donates eggs for raising trout in the Highlands of Guatemala. The trout project is one of many that provide employment to improve the welfare of Mayan Indians living in the area.

The 60,000 trout eggs are transported to Guatemala in a small, modified picnic cooler. Dave Cutner, of Spokane’s St. Thomas More Parish, volunteered his woodworking experience to craft five screened trays to hold the delicate eggs. A tray on top is for non-chlorinated ice that is available from Fred Meyer. The ice water dripping over the eggs will keep them cool and moist during their 2-3 day trip into Central America.

The fertilized eggs are carefully placed on the screens and prepared for shipment by Mike Lewis and his staff at the Little Spokane Hatchery. Hatchery personnel are familiar with the project. In an earlier year, a former manager (Mike Albert) even visited the trout ponds in Guatemala.

Once the eggs are loaded into the carrier, they must be flown to Guatemala within the few days before they are due to hatch. This involves some critical scheduling and coordination. In addition, it is a charitable endeavor, so the roundtrip airfare of the courier must be borne by a volunteer.

Getting the ice, fish eggs, (and melted ice = water) through the airport inspection stations can be a hurdle. As air travelers know, liquids in excess of 3 ounces are not allowed. The ice/water mixture can be dumped out before going through inspection. However there is no source of non-chlorinated ice in the airport proper (Wendy’s, McDonalds, and other fast food outlets all use chlorinated ice.)

Again, cooperative individuals help. The Security Director for TSA at the Spokane Airport willingly arranges to accept and keep non-chlorinated ice available. His inspection staff circumvent any radiation that would damage the eggs.

Another blend of personnel are involved in meeting the courier at the Guatemala City airport and transporting the 60,000 eggs to the mountains. Jorge de Leon, who manages an auto repair shop in the city, also guides the trout project in Ixtahuacán. He, or Father David Baronti, a Spokane Diocese priest who serves as a missioner in Guatemala, offer to drive the courier, and the eggs, on the four-hour trip to the trout ponds in the mountains.

Once in Ixtahuacán, Marcos, the trout ponds manager will take charge. He transfers the eggs into water-filled glass cylinders where workers can monitor their progress. As the fingerlings hatch and grow, they will be moved to larger ponds.

Eventually, the trout will be sold to restaurants along the Inter American Highway, or in one of the larger cities.

Income from the sale of the trout will be used to pay expenses and buy supplies such as fish food. It will also pay wages to Marcos and several local Mayan Indians who work at the trout ponds.

The German tourist, fine restaurant, and eggs of the Spokane trout hatchery are thus connected in a relationship much like the individual stands of a fishnet. Each component of the network makes it own vital contribution. However, when combined, the end result is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The coordinated efforts help, in a very significant way, to enhance and encourage the lives of many of the poor.

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

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