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A hand up!

    How do you ensure the dollars you donate to foreign aid make it to the desperately needy?    Is it wasted on fundraising and bureaucracy, or skimmed off by a myriad of fingers along the way before it makes it to that struggling soul staring at you from the TV commercial?    Undoubtedly there are con artists out there, but there also are very real needs.    One way to be sure that donation you are making is well-invested is to treat yourself to a vacation in the Third World and deliver your aid first-hand. And that’s exactly what several residents of Rainy River District have been doing.    Last week, Don and Lou Ricci, Gordon Armstrong, Nathan Armstrong (Thunder Bay), Sandra Ottertail, Barb Kyro, and Willard and Enid Peters returned from such a mission to Guatemala.    Over the past several years, several other local residents have undertaken similar excursions.    Working under the Grace Ministry, sponsored in part by the Friendship Baptist Church of Mobile, Ala., a group of 30 Canadians and Americans went to San Andres, Itzapa, in a remote area of Guatemala, to build houses and distribute food and clothing to the poorest of the poor.    Fifteen houses were built by the group in five days. And though very modest by our standards, these 12’x12’ post and beam, steel-clad buildings with concrete floors are a godsend to the recipients.    Identified by local missions as the most needy, many of the recipients are single mothers whose spouses have abandoned them or who have perished. Others are younger families who are destitute.    In this mainly rural area, subsistence agriculture and manual labour are a meager source of income for most locals. Running water is spotty and of questionable quality.    Sanitary sewers are simply unknown.    Getting materials and workers to the building sites in this mountainous region is no simple chore. Roads are poor, winding, and sometimes incomplete. Tools and material often had to be physically carried up steep slopes.    One house completed provided a young couple and their child with their first shelter with a rainproof roof, wall, and floor—complete with a single window and a door with a latch and key.    Thirty minutes after moving in, their new home was blessed with the birth of the couple’s second child.    On another day, $600 (U.S.) provided food staples, clothing, and toys distributed to 100 people at a remote church. A greatly-appreciated hand up to the poor in a country where roughly 60 percent of the population is malnourished.    Rich in scenery and Mayan history, Guatemala has a more tragic recent past, including a civil war of 30-plus years in the late 20th century that saw more than 200,000 people, primarily its indigenous peasants, murdered mostly by right-wing death squads.    Today, its 12 million citizens enjoy a democratic government, albeit precarious.    Material for the houses—$350 (U.S.) each—was purchased with donated funds. The workers also paid about $900 (U.S.) each to cover their own personal travel and living costs.    For a photo gallery of the of the whole project, and the people involved, check this link at    So, for your next tropical vacation, where are you heading?

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