Members of Lansing’s All Saints Parish have dedicated themselves over the past decade to lessen poverty in Guatemala. Due to the recent wrath of Mother Nature, their challenge is now steeper.
Landslides in early October caused significant death and destruction in the Central American country. Especially hard hit was the Santiago area, where a family’s newly constructed home that All Saints had financed was destroyed.
“They had just moved in March, which is really sad. That’s all been lost,” said Andra Benson, who serves as religious-education coordinator for the Tompkins County parish. “I feel very, very badly — not for the money we put in, but because the family finally had a decent place to live in.”
Benson said she has received word that the family escaped safely, taking refuge in a church and its courtyard. They fared better than many other Guatemalans: Heavy rains fueled by Hurricane Stan produced landslides that buried entire communities and killed several hundred people along Lake Atitlan.
Benson said she initially learned about the All Saints-sponsored family via e-mail from a resident of a nearby community, San Lucas Toliman, where the parish has been active with missionary activity as well. However, Benson has no new information about the family’s whereabouts — and, for that reason, is especially eager to follow through with a planned trip to Guatemala in March 2006.
“I would really like to see if we can help this family rebuild again. And the sponsors of the family are willing to try and help them,” she said.
The family is sponsored by several of Benson’s friends and relatives. In addition, she said, approximately 30 families from All Saints sponsor Guatemalan children through Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. This lay Catholic organization pairs sponsors in the United States with children and aging persons in developing countries.
Benson has coordinated and made several trips to Guatemala beginning in 1996, usually at the rate of one or two per year, as All Saints has steadily built its missionary relationship with the Mayan natives. Most recently, a group of 10 people from All Saints and Cornell University spent a week in Guatemala in March; their visit was profiled in the May 21, 2005, Southern Tier edition of Catholic Courier Weekly. Along with visiting the family near Santiago that needed a new home, the group spent much of its time in San Lucas Toliman building special stoves designed to minimize smoke inhalation.
Guatemala and its surrounding countries are among several parts of the world to be ravaged by natural disasters in recent weeks. An earthquake in Southeast Asia occurred within days of the landslides, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have victimized the southeastern United States. Although significant criticism has surfaced regarding the U.S. government’s immediate reaction to Katrina, Benson observed that the U.S., comparatively, has a much more solid emergency-response mechanism in place.
“When disaster hits a poor country such as Guatemala and Pakistan, it’s just so much harder because they don’t have the resources,” Benson said. “They have no home insurance, and people couldn’t afford it anyway. There’s no FEMA, no way for them to rebound at all. It’s very, very difficult — much more so than a richer country.”
For those who wish to contribute toward the Guatemalan relief effort, Benson suggested contacting Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, PO Box 805105, Kansas City, Mo., 64180-5105, visit www.cfcausa.org or call 800/875-6564.
Along with financial support, Benson suggested another way to help the Guatemalans.
“Please remember all these people in your prayers,” she said.