In every society, women and children are the most vulnerable. Violence, lack of access to education, homelessness, and acute poverty all affect the stability and health of the mothers who attempt to raise, protect, and care for their children, the young faces of the future.
This is no different in the country of Guatemala, where long-standing political corruption and violence have created a nation where more than half the population lives below the poverty line. In this land, 1 in 2 children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and most of them receive little to no schooling. Many girls are pulled out of school early on to help their mothers care for younger siblings or to work.
In the midst of this, the women and mothers of poverty-stricken families are trying to care for children, some women walking 3 or more hours of every day just to access clean water sources. For many of these women, the thought of proper medical care and reliable meals for their children is purely a dream.
The Bethany Center: Meeting the Needs of Women and Children in Guatemala
The goal of the Bethany Center (Centro Betania) network in Guatemala is to care in a special way for these women and children, reaching out to the most vulnerable and offering them a helping hand.
This network consists of one central urban center in Coban Alta Verapaz and two “commedores”--dining rooms--spread out in the nearby countryside. A fourth location, the Infant and Maternity Center, is located 84 miles away from the city of Coban in the remote mountainous village of San Benito Lachua, and is 95% complete.
For 5 years now, the Bethany Center has been supporting women and children by offering:
- Hearty meals
- Medical care and attention
- Education for young children
- Training programs that improve the women’s ability to earn a living
- Space for Guatemalan families to socialize and build community
- Spiritual, mental, and physical refreshment
Right now, during this season of Easter, we want to share with you more details about the life-giving work that is taking place through the Bethany Center in locations across remote parts of Guatemala, made possible through the generosity of many donors and volunteers.
We also want to highlight the remaining needs we face as we serve and minister to these families. Because of the success of these centers, the Bethany Center is in the process of expanding and continually building new centers and locations/ministries.
A Place for Community
The central location of the Bethany Center is in the bustling city of Coban, just down the hill from where the El Calvario parish is located, off a main street of the city. This center draws people from all over the city, and from more rural areas just outside of the city. Many of these folks take long, crowded bus rides into the city from their simple, rural homes to attend this center, and many of them are there 5 days a week.
Fr. Maxi is assisted by a regular collection of volunteers, most of whom are women. The volunteers help with many kinds of work: cooking, food prep, cleaning, and education for young children. The main center in Coban also has a “thrift shop” where some volunteers work.
These families come for education, food, and socializing. This urban center has education for very young children along with daily meals—substantial lunches mostly—for these same children plus their parents or other caregivers, who may be with them. These are quite poor families for whom this main meal is the most substantial and nutritious they will consume that day.
As the kids are educated, programs train the women in various skills, mostly crafts or domestic, so they can improve their abilities to earn a living. The center is an active, loving hub of true community, focused on both the spiritual and material needs of the poor.
Offshoots of Hope
The smaller, remote locations in mountain villages expand and continue this good work on the Bethany Center but do so in more limited ways. These locations focus on a simple school for young kids along with a nutritional meal when they are open, generally 5 days a week. They are very simple, but very functional and helpful for the remote communities in which they are placed. These centers serve up to 60 local families daily.
Building for the Future
The Bethany Center network is also in the process of expanding and building new centers and ministries.
One of the devastating effects of the poverty in Guatemala is the extremely high rate of infant mortality. In one remote aldea, up in the mountains about an hour and a half drive away from the city of Coban, we are hard at work building a pre-natal, neo-natal, and post-natal center, the Infant and Maternity Center. This center will be able to provide medical care and support to mothers as they care for themselves during pregnancy and their infants after birth.
We have also broken ground and established the foundation of what will become a school for older children. This school will provide education for grades up through secondary school and will serve the poor, rural families who without access to education will stay trapped in the cycles of poverty and illiteracy.
Here’s Why We Need Your Help
Although we are five years into the launch of the original Bethany Center, our work with the poor in Guatemala is just beginning.
We are focusing on a simple number: 5,500 dollars.
Here’s a breakdown of the current needs we face.
- We need full funding for three paid positions at the almost completed Infant and Maternity Center: a doctor, a nurse, and 24 hour security guard services to keep the premises safe. This Bethany Center project has been underway for over a year and is now on the brink of opening so this is the culmination of much labor, volunteer hours, donated supplies, and equipment. We now have everything we need to open except the full funding for these 3 baseline staff positions.
- We need industrial grade kitchen equipment for the three kitchens spread across our locations. We already have industrial grade stoves and ovens in place, but are in need of things like large refrigerators, food processors, and mixers so we can continue our work of feeding large groups of the poor.
- We need financial support for our ongoing building projects and for the food and purified water that we bring into these communities and serve in our dining rooms. Our building projects have begun, but we can only proceed as funds are available to us. We need support in order to complete these projects and make them operational!
As we have seen time and time again during our work here in Guatemala, it does not take much money to do an enormous amount of good.
The women and children of Guatemala face incredible challenges, but they bear these hardships with cheerfulness and faith.
When you support Fr. Maxi, Fr. Thomás, Fr. Felipe, and their teams through your prayers and your generosity, you are truly following Christ’s example. You too will be giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked of Guatemala.