by Maria Van Der Maaten
On Wednesday morning we met with Nicole Kast (head of programming) and Paul Townsend (country director) of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the Guatemala office. Nicole shared about the structure of CRS and the work the organization does as a whole and in Guatemala. She then described CRS’ project foci on Agricultural Livelihoods, Childhood and Youth Development, and Emergency Response and Recovery and how these strategic areas direct their projects in Guatemala. CRS focuses on “promoting transformational change at scale” through the development of local institutions and through public-private alliances.
During the question and answer time, we saw how CRS’ efforts to promote transformation change has been hampered, as 80-90% of their funding comes from USAID and weeks before signing an $11 million contract for a project in the Dry Corridor, President Trump’s tweets resulted in the funding being pulled and the project collapsing. The project would have served more than 7,000 families who face or are at risk for hunger and malnutrition. U.S. policy is being made with sticks to keep people from migrating, but the carrots that might help people choose to stay are also disappearing. Trump tweets had immediate impacts and, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, no discussion about the implications of those impacts. [This we heard/saw repeated throughout the delegation when talking about U.S. foreign policy/immigration policy.] When we asked CRS what we could do to support them and their work, Paul Townsend replied that a concrete ask is to make it known that the issues are poverty and violence and that people should have the right to migrate AND the right to stay. However, he clarified, if we want people to stay, we need to support infrastructure for good and just policies, by continuing to support US foreign aid to projects (like the one they had to cancel).
In the afternoon we traveled to La Esperanza and had lunch with the UPAVIMAs who are partnered through Sister Parish with delegate Linda Main’s church, First United Methodist Church, in Downers Grove, Illinois. We had a delicious lunch of churrasco, Guatemalan potato salad, and fresh lemonade.
Aldina and some of the other leaders gave us a tour of UPAVIM, showing us the Montessori I classroom, the nursery school, the bakery, and the artisan workshop, where many beautiful crafts are made. After a short break to do some shopping, we headed back to the San Benito hostel for a short break, a wonderful group reflection, and dinner.