It all started with a harmonica player.
"Dr. Aller came to Rotary to play his harmonica and tell us about Guatemala," said Kinch, a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Everett-Port Gardner.
"We'd give him a check," said Kinch, 67. "He was a jovial type of guy with an infectious personality."
Dr. Leeon Aller, a Snohomish family physician for many years, was 88 when he died of Parkinson's disease in 2008. Between 1985 and 1998, Aller and his wife Virginia had made 48 trips to Santa Cruz Barillas, a town in the mountains of northwest Guatemala. They helped build a school and hospital, and promoted reforestation in the coffee-growing area scarred by a decades-long civil war.
The Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, a nonprofit organization the Allers founded in 1985, continues to improve life for the area's poorest people, who subsist on little more than corn tortillas and salt.
On July 18, Kinch arrived back in Everett from his 10th trip to Guatemala. There, he celebrated the opening of a new Aller Skill Center. Named in honor of the late doctor, the two-story concrete center in Santa Cruz Barillas was built with donations and help from the Rotary Club of Everett-Port Gardner. Kinch is the unpaid executive director of the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, which is supported by gifts from churches, clubs and individuals.
Rotary clubs in Marysville, south Everett and other areas have been involved in building schools and other projects in Guatemala.
Through the years, Kinch has been joined on service trips to Guatemala by many from Snohomish County, including Buzz Rodland and Harv Jubie. Kinch said Rodland's mother, Betty Rodland, made generous contributions to buy school desks. Now, the Aller center will be used to teach people to build the desks, and as a training and storage place for stoves, water collection tanks and other items being installed each year in the homes of area villagers.
"It's all paid for, thanks to the generosity of people around here," he said. "Now we have nine people working there. We're teaching them skills, how to make a living."
Kinch has taken his 10-year-old grandson, Aaron Andrews-Kinch, to Guatemala, and the boy helped raise $300 for seeds to help plant vegetable gardens.
With so many in need in our own country, Kinch said he is still drawn to Guatemala by a level of poverty most Americans can't imagine.
"The average person there makes $3 to $5 a day," he said. "Traditionally, kids go to about the third grade, that's it. It's easy for us to say kids should be in school, but we have to be careful that we don't impose our standards. Our whole goal is teaching self-sufficiency," Kinch said. "We're so blessed here, we don't realize."
He's seen small successes that make a big difference. Women have started small businesses such as candle-making to help support families.
One big project was providing water storage tanks. People have been accustomed to either walking hours to other villages for water or collecting it from mud puddles -- for drinking water -- Kinch said.
On his recent trip, Kinch visited Marco Tulio Maldonado, director of Hands for Peacemaking in Guatemala. For two years, the young man was part of the Kinch family when he came here to study at Everett Community College. "He did well in school, he studied real hard," said Kinch, who's pleased that Maldonado has since married and named a son after Kinch. The young family is planning a visit to Everett.
It all started with Dr. Aller's first talk to the Rotary.
"We were just curious where our money was going," Kinch said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out about the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation's work in Guatemala, go to www.handsforpeacemaking.org.
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