When Christmas shoppers in District 69 lay their presents under the tree this year, Louise Sosa hopes they’ll include a locally-made Christmas card in the package.
The Qualicum Beach resident is the spokesperson for Aldea Maya, an organization that has been working to relieve poverty in the Guatemalan highlands for the past five years.
Sosa said her group has begun a campaign to raise funds for school children in the new village of Chukamuk, making use of the artistic talents of children in seven local schools to make Christmas cards.
“Chukamum is a new village that was built for refugees from the 2005 landslide in their former village of Panabaj,” she said. “It was 40 feet thick and half a mile wide and killed between 600 and 800 people.”
Although the survivors have a brand new village in a safe location, Sosa said they have no food to eat or any way to make any money — a problem exacerbated by the loss of a disproportionate number of men in the community.
“They kept going in to save people,” Sosa said. “A lot of them died.”
The new village, she added, is in a part of Guatemala that has fifth worst record for chronic malnutrition in the world, so Sosa and her team began a program to provide at least some self-sufficiency in this regard.
“We started garden and nutrition projects where every child in Grade 2 receives a banana plant, while Grade 3 children get a papaya plant and Grade 6 students receive a citrus tree,” she said. “The kids get nutrition and cooking classes and within a year, the families are getting food to eat.”
Similarly, the group gives two large chickens and a bag of feed to all Grade 5 students and teach them how to build a chicken coop and look after their birds.
Because none of the children went past Grade 6, the group converted an existing building into a middle school, to allow children to continue their education.
“We pay all the teachers’ salaries and buy all the supplies,” Sosa said. “By January of 2013 we should have 80 kids in grades seven and eight.”
The way they pay for their projects, she said, is through Christmas card sales.
“These cards will enable the children to go to school,” she said. “I have to sell $50-worth for their books, math sets, calculators and so on, and I need another $35 to pay for school fees for a year.”
She stressed that all monies raised go directly towards the children involved in the program and none of it goes towards administration.
The cards range in price from $15 to $50 each and are available at Our Glass in Parksville and Arbutus Emporium in Qualicum Beach.