Sometimes a village needs a little help to raise children.
This theme of working with a village to achieve its residents’ long-term goals attracted Mark Wensley and his staff to the Food for the Hungry Canada Project in Guatemala. Project organizers work with village leaders to develop a plan for the village’s needs which is then implemented by local staff with funding from Food for the Hungry sponsors and information and advice as needed. When individuals sponsor a child, the money goes to benefit the entire village.
“For us, the greatest attraction was the relationship with the village,” said Wensley, owner of 3% Realty and Highridge Homes in Vernon. “We will be working with them for 10 years and we go there and get to know them and walk alongside them as they work to what they know they need for a sustainable life within their own culture.
“The other thing that appealed to me was they are not looking for handouts. They want to do all the work but they don’t have the means to start. Sometimes the means can be very little by North American standards, for example, the tools and seeds to start a garden.”
Wensley, his wife Cori, and office administrator Verity Pickering visited Acul, Guatemala, last fall.
They visited another village that has been part of Food for the Hungry’s 10-year plan for several years to see how the project works. In Rio Azul, population about 2,000, every home now has safe running water, and sewage is treated before being released back to the river. There has been a dramatic reduction in sickness and it is easier to grow food than before when people had to walk long distances to get water for agriculture. There is also basic education for children, and adults who want it.
“The mayor and elders gave us a tour. They are so proud of it,” said Pickering. “There are health services, particularly for children, who were sometimes being fed coffee, and information about nutrition. Their diet had been very limited, mostly corn, and now there is more variety.
“This is not just giving them money and hoping for the best. It is watching people take pride in the success of their own projects.”
She was impressed with a project which teaches women the basics of banking so they can help themselves with loans, often very small, to start businesses.
“The people in our office are supportive with sponsoring children and we want to take more of them there to see what is being done. It is very hopeful. It is exciting to get behind something when you can see that it works,” said Pickering. “It costs only $39 a month to sponsor a child and these children are going to be the future community leaders. We like to get the letters and photos from the children.”
The 3% Realty connection came about in an unexpected way. Wensley knew someone from Food for the Hungry who was looking for a sponsor to pay for shipping soup mix produced by Okanagan Gleaners. Wensley paid for this and, by happy coincidence, saw cases of the soup mix labeled from the Okanagan when he got to Guatemala. It is used there for school breakfast and lunch programs. The Gleaners do not know where their products go when they are handed over to aid distribution agencies.
The Wensleys and Pickering visited the village they will take part in sponsoring. Acul is a 500-year-old village in the mountains with a population of 3,500, 1,360 of them school-age children. The Maya people speak Ixil so communication was two-way interpretation with a Spanish-English speaker and a Spanish-Ixil speaker. Most of the housing is one-room, dirt-floored huts and people walk with buckets on their heads to get water.
“We spoke with the leaders about what they need, which is sanitation, water, education, health services and information. We heard that some of the babies are being fed coffee. When they are given nutrition supplements and information, they can see the difference in the children’s growth and health,” said PIckering.
Wensley noted, “They, all the people, not just children, are not hungry but they are malnourished, not so much lack of food, but lack of variety. We want to help with that but we want to help with their own ideas and dreams,” he said. “We were told before we went not to look at the poverty but the riches of the culture. I think here we can have a poverty of relationships and community and there they have a richness of caring for each other and relationships and shared culture. All we can give them is a little bit of money. They are intelligent and hard-working but they need that little bit of help. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to do that.
“This is the next dream for me, to see Acul and other villages achieve their dreams.”
For more information about sponsoring a child in Acul or about Food for the Hungry programs around the world, see www.fhcanada.org.