Cold cash, warm hearts Both needed to help orphans

Cold cash, warm hearts Both needed to help orphans by David Lias The irony of the situation is impossible to ignore.

Approximately two weeks ago, a group of concerned Vermillion area men and women met at Ed and Diane Nesselhauf�s home to map out ways to help an orphanage in Guatemala that was devastated earlier this summer by an earthquake.

They set a highly ambitious goal for themselves � to attempt to raise $250,000 between now and January.

Then fate dealt the people of Turkey a deadly blow this week in the form of a 7.9-magnitude tremor that has killed over 2,000, trapped possibly as many as 10,000, and focused world-wide attention on the disaster.

The orphanage in eastern Guatemala � known as Casa Guatemala � was hit 8:30 a.m. July 11 by an earthquake that measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. Fortunately, no one was killed by the tremors.

Sadly, however, much of the world community seems to have forgotten about the disaster. The children and the staff of the orphanage have been struggling for more than a month now. Virtually every building at the orphanage was destroyed.

Diane Nesselhauf believes its time for people to focus on helping the people of both Turkey and Nicaragua overcome the human suffering caused by the recent natural disasters in the two countries.

�I think we all have to realize that we live in a global community,� she said. �We have to do what we can, even if it�s not for the people next door.�

The tragic circumstances in Turkey won�t change the plans that were recently discussed by concerned local citizens who met in the Nesselhauf home.

�I don�t think the situation in Turkey will change what we talked about,� she said. �I think there�s enough wealth in this world and enough caring people in this world to spread it around. The earthquake in Turkey doesn�t diminish what can be done for the orphanage in Guatemala.

�In fact,� she added, �the situations in the two countries might touch some people�s hearts and they�ll help both countries. I think sometimes here we can become pretty insulated. We have to step out of our comfort zone.�

Familiar with orphanage

Nesselhauf is familiar with Casa Guatemala because she has stepped out of her �comfort zone� several times over the past four years to visit and work at the orphanage.

She has communicated with the orphanage�s staff by e-mail since the tremors, and learned that life � which is always an endless competition against the elements of the Guatemalan rain forest � has grown much more challenging.

�The earthquake took away most of the buildings,� she said. �The ones that stayed were the ones that Dick (Sunde of Vermillion) and the work crews built in January, thank goodness.�

Sunde and Kevin Kelley of Vermillion, and other workers helped complete the school building earlier this year.

�The local folks poured the concrete piers and all of the bracing. We came in and put in all the floor joists and built the rafters and put the roof on, and put most of the flooring on,� Sunde said.

�If it hadn�t been for that school building, there would be no orphanage, because what they did with that school building is they put half of the kids in there right away and used it as a dorm,� Nesselhauf said. �The other half they put in tents for 10 days. If it hadn�t been for that building, they would have been in a terrible situation.�

The earthquake destroyed the orphanage�s kitchen, boys� dorm and a craft room.

Showers, toilets and other fixtures from the bathrooms crashed through walls and ceilings and destroyed a building used for crafts.

The quake also destroyed a large ranch home used to house Casa Guatemala�s girls and small children. An office and storage building is gone. Classes are being held in a kindergarten building that was spared.

�They�re actually having school in there right now, with 12 to 18 students in four small rooms,� Nesselhauf said.

A guest house, the boys� dorm and all of the workers� houses were destroyed.

The orphanage�s farm was also damaged. �They just put in a new fish farm,� Nesselhauf said, �and that was tremendously damaged.�

Rio Dulce

Casa Guatemala is a non-political, non-sectarian charitable organization dedicated to helping children. It is supported solely by private contributions from around the world, receiving no funding from the government of Guatemala.

Casa Guatemala is an organization with 20 years experience, helping malnourished children. It shelters, protects, and educates orphans and abandoned children. Casa Guatemala provides services both in Guatemala City and at its rural facilities on the Rio Dulce.

Casa Guatemala�s Rio Dulce project is in the country�s eastern rain forest. It serves abandoned and orphaned children from throughout the country. Situated on the banks of the Rio Dulce River at the edge of the jungle, the project�s rural setting provides a socially healthy atmosphere for over 100 homeless children. Most of these children are wards of the state and ineligible for adoption.

The orphanage is also home to 40 to 50 workers, 20 teachers and 20 volunteers. This program strives to create a true community and to provide the children with the education, training, love and guidance they need to become responsible and productive citizens.

Integration of the institution into the daily life of the neighboring villages is actively promoted, opening a larger world for the children and helping them to overcome the sense of isolation often experienced by children raised in orphanages.

The Rio Dulce project is an asset to the local population of Kekchi speaking Indians who live in relative isolation and poverty. The Rio Dulce orphanage provides access to free medical care and schooling.

The project also provides them with employment, health training, clothing donations, nutritious meals for the school children and use of the orphanage�s mill for grinding corn.

This project includes a farm used to teach sustainable agriculture techniques and will hopefully allow self-sufficiency in food production.

Top priority

The world won�t return to normal for the residents and staff of Rio Dulce, however, until the orphanage is rebuilt. And the best way to get that process started, said Caitlin Collier, one of the Vermillion people attending the planning meeting, is to raise funds.

An American dollar can be stretched, in some instances, quite a bit in poverty-stricken Guatemala. Ten dollars, for example, will hire a worker for a week. But transporting people on the river in boats takes fuel. Gasoline in the region costs $5 per gallon.

�Down there, living wages are $12 to $15 per week. I think the main thing they�re going to need is cold, hard cash,� Collier said.

The orphanage�s operating fund is approximately $125,000 annually. Casa Guatemala�s manager had to spend $43,000 to replace damaged plumbing to protect the children�s health.

�It seems to me we can raise $250,000 between now and January,� Collier said. �What I would suggest that we do is try to raise this amount in various ways. If we could convince other people in other parts of the United States to try to do that, that would be great. It may be possible that we could find some corporations that will match the money that is raised.�

Better buildings needed

�Before the earthquake, so many of the buildings were like toothpicks on thatch,� Nesselhauf said. �The orphanage was built in late 1980s. It was cleared with a machete in a swamp. The structures are built on wood stilts.�

Higher quality buildings are needed. �The ground just went down, so when they rebuild, they need to rebuild on cement,� Nesselhauf said. �They have to build better, and it�s going to take a lot of money to do that. It will take at least $500,000 to get the buildings back into shape.�

�And an earthquake is not a fluke in that location, nor is a hurricane nor is ash fall from a volcano,� Kelley said. �All of those things are daily hazards in that part of the world.�

Perhaps the most valuable resource of Rio Dulce are the area�s native people.

�The local people can do a lot of things, and the good thing about hiring local people is they need money so they can feed their families,� Nesselhauf said. �They are a poor, poor people.�

Reconstructing the orphanage, Kelley said during the meeting, will be good employment for people who live near the orphanage.

�They�re good workers, and there isn�t a person in this room,� Kelley said, referring to the Vermillion men and women at the meeting, �who would work a day for what they work a week for.�

Nesselhauf said plans are being made for people from the Vermillion area to travel to the orphanage in January to work.

�None of the work can start until the dry season begins in January or possibly as late as early February,� Kelley said. �This project is going to take eight, 10, 12 months if it all goes well. If we can get enough people who will say ?I�ll take 10 days out of my life or two weeks out of my life and go down there and work� and keep the continuity, we can raise some dust down there.�

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