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

Nahualá Radio delivers spiritual, cultural, and economic help to indigenous Guatemalan families

by Dr. José Miguel and Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Santos Guachiac was 75 years old, nearly blind from cataracts, and isolated in the volcanic mountains of Northern Guatemala. Navigating the steep trails was not easy, so he didn’t venture out of his tiny village of Pacutamah very often. His connection with the outside world was primarily via a radio station started by a Spokane missionary over 40 years earlier.

When Santos heard that a medical team was coming from Spokane to do cataract surgery at a clinic in Novillero, he was ready to embark on the five-hour hike. His son, Salvador, would lead him over the rugged terrain.

Santos got his operation, regained his sight, and even returned for a second operation two years later. He is one of thousands of indigenous Mayan Indians who have benefitted from the “Voice of Nahuala” Catholic radio station begun in 1962 by Father John Rompa of the Spokane Diocese.

A native staff member helps operate radio station “Nawal Estero” in Nahualá, Guatemala. The station was begun in 1962 by Father John Rompa, a missioner from the Diocese of Spokane, and was the first to broadcast programs in the Mayan language of K’iche. The station offers programs related to housekeeping, agriculture, raising children, care of elderly, community involvement, and medical services in remote areas.

Father Rompa was the third in a series of “padres” who volunteered for the Spokane mission in the Diocese of Sololá, Guatemala. He spent eight years in Guatemala, and was deeply appreciated by the people. When he revisited the mission on its 25 anniversary in 1985, the natives acclaimed him with the resounding chant of “Rompa, Rompa, Rompa!”

“La Voz de Nahuala” was the first radio station in Guatemala to transmit programs in the Mayan language of K’iche. The illiteracy rate was very high and there were few schools in the highlands. So the early focus was upon literacy and evangelization.

Sister Janet Duffel, a School Sister of Notre Dame originally from Colton, Wash., took over responsibility for operations of the radio station in 1965. With the support of community-based groups and religious leaders, the variety of offerings was gradually expanded to include programs related to housekeeping, agriculture, raising children, care of elderly, and community involvement.

In 1996, after 34 years as an AM station, an FM frequency was added, and the official name was changed to Nawal Estereo. The station currently has 12 employees. It operates under departments of administration, community marketing, news, youth, and women, and broadcasts in K’iche, Kaqchiquiel, and Spanish.

Donna Connell, chair of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission, visits with one of the radio station operators at the Nawal Estero in Nahuala, Guatemala. The station, begun in 1962 by Father John Romps of Spokane, was the first in Guatemala to broadcast programs in the Mayan language of K’iche. (IR photos courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

Santos Guachiac was one of many natives who have benefitted from announcements of health programs, such as vaccination availability, prenatal services, and dates of midwife courses. The station also features interviews with Dr. Jose Miguel of the Novillero clinic, speaking about various topic of interest to the Mayan people.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Spokane Diocese’s mission in Guatemala, and a trip is planned for early November to celebrate the event. Visitors from Spokane will have an opportunity to see the radio station in Nahualá, as well as other mission activities.

(For more information about the anniversary pilgrimage to the Guatemala Mission, contact Donna Connell, chair of the Guatemala Commission: 924-1346.)

(Dr. José Miguel is part of the medical staff for the diocese’s mission in Guatemala. Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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