Sharing experiences of Guatemala 0
A Pembroke woman shared her experiences in Guatemala over the past 12 years painting the picture of a country still recovering from civil war and harsh economic realities.
Susan Schmaltz, and her husband, Richard, have been working with missionaries and non-government organizations in the Latin American nation since 2000.
Although her husband has since returned to Guatemala, Ms. Schmaltz was on hand during a special Guatemalan fundraiser hosted last Saturday night at Our Lady of Lourdes Church Hall. The event included the serving of a traditional Guatemalan meal, music and a silent auction.
The Schmaltzes, who were lay associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Pembroke, brought their knowledge and skills as educators to helping schoolchildren. When they began their mission there, Ms. Schmaltz set up play-based, activity centred, pre-school programs and trained two Guatemalan teachers in the basic practices of early childhood education. Her husband worked with teams of volunteers to build basic homes and furniture for families.
They later worked in the village of Sacala Los Lomas, where many women widowed by the war were struggling to support their children. They later established a small preschool for children freeing the women to work and solicited donations for the purchase of looms and sewing machines to enable them to increase their production.
"It was a profound but very unsettling experience," Ms. Schmaltz said in her brief remarks before presenting a slide show. "Every person who has come down to Guatemala has experienced the same thing."
During the 36-year-old Guatemalan civil war, it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been killed and between 40,000 and 50,000 had disappeared. The overwhelming majority of those killed were victims of official-sanctioned terror by government forces.
Ms. Schmaltz admitted it was difficult to filter through the photos they amassed over the past decade noting that it is hard to describe what conditions are like down there.
"How does a photograph tell you what some of these people have suffered - the loss of their land, the massacres, the ritualistic torture and murder of women," explained Ms. Schmaltz. "How does a photograph express the joy in a child's heart when he is sleeping in a bed for the first time with blankets and a pillow instead of a blanket on a dirt floor."
During their mission work, they set up Oneness Through Service - Guatemala, an educational project, which is child- centered and activity-based. The purpose of this project is to replace traditional Guatemalan practices of long hours of copying, rote learning and memorization with self initiated, hands-on learning. They have also established schools and supervised teacher training.
In 2010 a group, made up of men and women who have worked with the Schmaltzes in the Ottawa Valley/Guatemala, came together in support of "Oneness". The Circle of Oneness meets monthly in Pembroke or Ottawa. Last spring, "Oneness" formed a partnership with Horizons of Friendship, a Canadian NGO which facilitates the administration of funds.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist