by Chris Hoyt, National Director Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos – Guatemala
It seems just yesterday I was gazing out upon the Precious Blood Center’s pond as the “Geese Police,” a highly trained combination of stealth dogs, chased the migratory pests away during the winter months. From my vantage point in the Volunteer Office of Stukenborg Manor for three years, I witnessed gardens grow, new programs flourish, and Precious Blood friends assume new ministries wrought with challenges. Fr. Bayuk and I debated the virtues of using single vs. double spaces after a period in a sentence; Fr. Ebach invited me to eat his famous cabbage rolls but never shared the secret; and Fr. Nassal and I founds more balls than we lost in our golf games, which for me always constituted a round well played.
Since departing to volunteer in Cameroon in April 2012, the Precious Blood community has remained foremost in my thinking. What were striking images for me when I first joined the community—“the cry of the blood,” and “a thousand tongues”—became second nature, particularly the Precious Blood focus to maintain the space at the foot of the cross where suffering is the daily reality.
What I found in Belo, Cameroon would not surprise most people when they reflect upon rural Western Africa: subsistence farmers, high unemployment, stark gender inequality, and the rampant effects of HIV and AIDS. My wife Katie and I were helping the Rural Development Center of Cameroon (rudec.org) deliver social services out of a two-room, mud-brick hut. My tasks were focused on fundraising and volunteer development, while Katie taught daily in government schools where average class size reached 115 students. In the afternoons and on summer vacation, the volunteers and I would join Katie in an old school room to tutor. On our first day 200 children flooded the room, eager at a chance for a bit of extra algebra and English help. If I were to mark the key difference from my time in Cameroon and other countries, it would be the tightly embraced realization that education holds the key to development. Surrounded by lush green mountains, overflowing waterfalls, and rich soil that gave way to mango, papaya and pineapple, it was clear that the slightest touch of investment in local business and education could transform the community holistically.
From Western Africa we traveled south to Malawi and joined the well-respected and highly impressive Catholic Relief Services. Operating in over 100 countries, CRS is the official international development arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. With its roots in emergency assistance to Holocaust survivors after World War II, CRS has branched into excellent programming, with Catholic social teaching as the basis of its operations. In Malawi, which is facing an HIV infection rate of 14% and life expectancy of only 42 years, I assisted in monitoring and evaluating a program that delivered Early Childhood Development services to children affected by HIV and AIDS. Other programs included aiding smallholder farmers to diversify their crops to avoid crop devastation during droughts, educating pregnant mothers in prevention of passing HIV to their newborn children, and preventing gender-based violence. If you are ever wondering if you should support the collection made each Lent on behalf of CRS’ work, I can only say that the professionalism and dedication of its staff is overwhelming, and your support goes a long way.
Katie and I have now returned to work with the organization in which we first met, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, or Our Little Brothers and Sisters. Here in Guatemala, we provide a family, education, healthcare, food and shelter to 300 children who have been orphaned, abandoned, abused, or living in extreme poverty. NPH began nearly 60 years ago when an American priest working in Mexico discovered that a boy had robbed his poor box. Instead of pressing charges, when Fr. Wasson discovered that the boy was caring for himself and his brother, he adopted the boys, and one month later the judge sent Fr. Wasson 8 more children. Since 1954, NPH has grown to be home to over 3,300 children in nine Latin American countries.
In addition to our children living onsite with all their siblings, we operate a Montessori pre-school, primary, middle school, and technical trade workshops with scholarships available to children living in our neighboring community. Our 16 children with special needs receive occupational and physical therapy, compete in Special Olympics, and are the pride of our family. NPH Guatemala’s first university graduate will be a doctor whose dream is to volunteer in NPH Haiti’s pediatric hospital. Since many of our children have lived several years on the street, arrive speaking indigenous dialects, or manifest traumas as a result of abuse, our Special Education department, run by my wife Katie, provides individualized attention to ensure each and every child will be a productive member of society. Our vegetable and animal farm allows us to teach the children the importance of growing our own food, in addition to helping us maintain our costs at a low level.
It is simple to sing the praises at a general level of the work of NPH Guatemala, but as the National Director, I am infinitely impressed by our staff. In my first week, one of my cooks was shot during an attempted kidnapping of her daughter. My workers traveling from the capital city each day are robbed on the public buses if the drivers fail to pay a bribe to the local gangs, many have endured death threats, and yet they continue to provide love to our children on a daily basis for a Guatemalan minimum wage. A frightening amount of our children have seen their parents murdered before their eyes as a result of drug violence, or are living with chronic illnesses, completely dependent on the medications NPH provides. What NPH offers is the security of a home and family, so that our children can overcome the tremendous challenges they have been handed and become whole.
Without any doubt, the path we have traveled since embarking from the Precious Blood community often causes me to reflect upon St. Gaspar’s remarks that missionaries are not motionless. The Circle process I was trained in by Fr. Kelly at the PBMR in Chicago has offered me several opportunities to bring both our children and staff to a safe space to process their histories, and our very work involves reconciliation of individuals and peoples torn apart by poverty, violence and abuse. The Precious Blood community endowed me with a framework, language, and tools to implement in our subsequent work, and for that support, among our enduring friendships, I will be eternally grateful.
Please visit us and our children at NPH Guatemala, and from our family here, blessings to all. To learn more or to support our projects, please visit www.nph.org.
Chris Hoyt is the former Director of Precious Blood Volunteers.