Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Long-term impact study examines Guatemala Mission activity

by Jerry Monks PhD, for the Inland Register

(From the April 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

Replacing inadequate shelter (left) with stable housing (right) has been one of the improvements accomplished in Guatemala through the Family-to-Family program. (IR photos courtesy of Family-to-Family.)

The Spokane Diocese began its pastoral missionary activities among the Mayan Indians in Guatemala in 1960. Over the following years, the “Voice of Nahualá” radio station was added, along with schools and agricultural and health programs.

In 1984, the Family-To-Family (FTF) economic development program was added. FTF partners U.S. sponsors with some of the most disadvantaged families of the area with selected training programs over an extended period to help families become more self-sufficient.

Following are the results of a random sample of 45 of the 975 Mayan families who completed the three year FTF program during the years 2000-2010.

Work and Income Activities

All families, except one, took at least one training course, some took more than one. The courses and number of sample families involved are shown below. About two-thirds of the families said they had used their FTF training to help teach skills to others.

Training Courses and Participation by Families in Study Sample

Course | Number of Families

Baking | 6
Carpentry | 3
Cooking | 16
Crochet | 4
Embroidery | 2
Farming | 3
Forestry | 7
Gardening | 2
Poultry | 1
Sewing | 26
Shoe making | 1
Weaving | 21

When asked how much the FTF program training had helped in support of their family, most responded that the program helped somewhat or very much. Eighty percent felt that some of their current income was attributable to the training they received.

Participants were asked to estimate (1) their monthly income “before” entering the FTF program and (2) their current (“after” program) income. Sample data revealed an average income of $28.35/month for the families before entering the FTF program versus $50/month at the time of the interviews. Statistical testing of the data showed that the difference in income was significant and could be applied to the entire population of families completing the program with a chance of error of less than 1 percent.

Food Supply and Health

Participants are selected for the FTF program because they are among the most disadvantaged of all families in the areas in which they live. Their most basic need is for adequate food and shelter.

Respondents were asked to rate any difference in the available food from the time they entered the program versus today. Upon entering the program, 75 percent of the families classified their food supply as in the most precarious state – as either “very inadequate” or “inadequate.” After completing the program, that percentage had dropped to 11 percent. These are among the poorest of families, however, and only 38 percent of the families perceived themselves as slightly better off with having “barely enough” food.

Although the “entering” and “after program” food supply was still not plentiful for most of the families, the improvement represented a statistically significant difference from when families entered the program.

Families were asked what term best described their health condition. Most families responded with “satisfactory” both before and after the program. As with some other questions, the responses tended to reflect a cultural bias or reticence to admit of certain conditions. One respondent said “very poor” because his wife was sick.


Data were collected on several aspects of family housing to identify major differences the families experienced on the basis of “before” entering the program and “after” at the time of the survey.

a) Home Construction: Upon entering the program, most of the 45 families lived in an adobe (22) or rough wooden structure (13) house; one had a more desirable cement block house. Adobe houses are made of mud, and do not hold up well in the earthquake prone mountains of Northwestern Guatemala. The “after program” situation revealed that 18 additional families (19 total) then had cement block houses, 10 had houses of wood, and 13 families still had adobe houses.
b) Flooring: Poor families typically sleep together in the middle of their small single room house. Most (41) of the houses of families entering the program had dirt floors but one had a wood or cement floor. The “after program” status showed that 30 families had wood or cement floors, and 13 families still had dirt floored houses.
c) Cooking: All families entering the program, except one, used a fire pit on the dirt floor of their house for cooking. In addition to causing respiratory problems, the open fires are often a source of severe burns of children. At the “after program” time of the survey, all 45 families had a functioning stove with chimney.
d) Electricity: Upon entering the program, approximately half of the families had no electricity available. The others had power in their house, or within 100 feet of their house. The “after program” data showed that most families then had power in their house or nearby. Two families still had no electricity available. Some of the improvement may be attributed to governmental extension of electrical grids.
e) Water/Plumbing: Upon entering the program, one third of the families had no access to water within 100 feet of their house. The others had access to a nearby faucet, and one had an “in house” supply.

The “after program” survey revealed that only one family still had no access to nearby water, one still had an “in house” supply, and all others had nearby access.

f) Latrine/Septic: One third of the families had no latrine before entering the program, 3 families shared one with others, and 27 had their own latrine. None had an inside toilet. “After” program data revealed that nearly all families (41) had their own latrine, one shared a latrine with others, and three had inside toilets.


As mentioned above, sample results may reflect some cultural bias, and may have been affected by other factors, such as governmental progress in bringing electricity into rural areas. Also, the participants received the equivalent of about $20 to compensate them for the time and distance they had to walk to where they could participate in the study.

Sample results do, however, connote improvement in level of self-sufficiency as defined by income, food supply, and housing. The improvements noted in income and food supply are both statistically significant. In addition, the “after program” results suggest considerable improvement in nearly all aspects of family housing.

Some health related considerations, such as the availability of a stove with chimney, are especially noteworthy. Although some of the improvements may have been due to other causes, the data lend substantial support to housing and other benefits arising from participation in the various FTF programs.

(Dr. Jerry Monks is professor emeritus of Gonzaga University.)

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