Missionaries Find Creative Ways to Help Poor Children in Remote Jungles

Catholic priests working in the jungles of Guyana were faced with a unique problem – how to educate the desperately poor children living in the remote villages that are located along the country's long, twisting rivers.

“ In this part of Guyana, roads are virtually non-existent. The only way to travel is by boat on the network of rivers. And, of course, the poor don't have access to motorboats so they travel by canoe. It's slow, arduous work to paddle up and down those rivers. Even so, you often see groups of children as young as five or six working their way from one place to another,” explained Mike Wilson, field director for Cross International Catholic Outreach, one of America's leading Catholic relief and development ministries. Wilson and other staff members from Cross were in Guyana to assess the situation and meet with priests working in the area.

Cross International Catholic Outreach's method of helping the poor is simple but highly effective. The group locates priests, nuns and parishes doing exemplary work to help the poor and provides those ministries with the specific resources they need. In some cases, Cross is providing food or some other material resource for an existing program. In other cases, the ministry helps a priest or parish start a new project that has been “on the drawing board” but could not be launched without financial help.

In Guyana, the team from Cross is working to do both. The ministry will provide an existing feeding program with supplies of urgently needed food, and it will also work to help Fr. Pablo Waldmann establish a new weekday youth hostel for children who cannot attend school because they live too far away to travel by boat each morning and evening.

“ Father Pablo was thrilled to hear that we will try to secure funding for the youth hostel. It will make it possible for a whole group of children to attend school. With the hostel serving as a weekday home, they don't need to travel by boat for hours each day. They can come in at the beginning of the week and return home for the weekend. It will eliminate a lot of hardships for those children – and give them the hope only an education can provide,” Wilson explained. “The fishermen and poor farmers in this area are uneducated and they never dreamed that their children would have this opportunity. They're thrilled to hear that help may soon be on the way.”

Fr. Mariano Varela, another missionary working in the remote areas of Guyana, was also grateful for the food his ministry will receive. Malnutrition is a major problem in his community, and he has a desperate need for supplies of food. To make his point, Fr. Varela related the story of one of the children – Clinton Daniles, a third grader.

“ When little Clinton was in pre-school he suffered what we thought was an illness. He would fall asleep or cry and he would show signs of a fever. Then, we discovered how little he was eating because his family was poor. He was coming to school with only a small cup of rice for lunch, and he would cry at lunchtime,” Fr. Varela explained. “When we realized the problem, we put him in the lunch program and he rapidly improved. He had trouble in his studies before, but he picked things up more quickly and became much more happy and sociable. Now – even as young as he is – he says he wants to be a doctor and help other sick children.”

When the staff from Cross International Catholic Outreach returned to the U.S., it began arranging the food aid and pursuing contributions from American Catholics to help the priests in Guyana with their other programs to serve the poor.

“ Our goal now is to inform U.S. Catholics about the needs in Guyana and to seek financial contributions to help Fr. Varela and the other priests working there,” Wilson said. “Every donation, large or small, will make a big difference and help us reach our goal.”

Readers interested in making a tax-deductible gift to help Cross International and its educational programs can use the Cross brochure enclosed in this issue of the newspaper. Contributions can also be mailed to: Cross International Catholic Outreach, Dept. AD00224, 490 White Pond Drive, PO Box 63, Akron, OH 44309-0063.