Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
He was once mayor of Everett, but for 15 years Pete Kinch has been devoted to helping dirt-poor people in Guatemala.
“How do you deal with extreme poverty? I think we have to start somewhere,” said Kinch, who served as Everett’s mayor from 1990 to 1994.
Kinch, 71, is executive director of the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation. The Everett-based nonprofit sends volunteers and donations to Santa Cruz Barillas, a remote mountain town in northwest Guatemala near the Mexican border.
With many volunteers traveling to Guatemala from Rotary Clubs in Snohomish County, the group has built a skills center and many schools, and has helped villagers build water collection systems and latrines.
National news is now dominated by the humanitarian crisis and political storm created by a huge wave of Central American children crossing our southern border. According to The Associated Press, more than 50,000 young people have arrived unaccompanied since last fall. They are fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Compounding the problem is a 2008 law, aimed at sex trafficking and signed by President George W. Bush, guaranteeing immigration hearings for minors coming alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada.
Kinch sees no quick fix for the border situation. But after at least a dozen trips to Guatemala over the past 15 years, he understands why people flee.
“Most of the villages we run into are probably 150 years behind. Some places they live don’t have water,” he said.
Families he sees in Guatemala earn a few dollars a day picking coffee, cardamom or sugarcane. Women and girls spend whole days walking to get water or firewood.
“What you’re seeing now, it’s a reflection of people who live in poverty (who) are willing to risk the lives of their children for a potential better life,” Kinch said. “That tells you there’s very little hope for kids of the area.”
Kinch is convinced the answer to helping the poorest of the poor in Guatemala lies in education — in their own country. When he began going there, he saw children getting just a year of schooling. Because of school-building projects, some are now educated through the sixth grade. They read to their parents.
Harv Jubie and his brother, Larry Jubie, have made annual trips to Guatemala with Hands for Peacemaking. In 2011, they were honored with the foundation’s Aller Humanitarian Award. It is named for Dr. Leeon Aller, a Snohomish family doctor who founded the foundation in 1985.
“We think we make a difference. They certainly need people to help them,” said Harv Jubie, who is retired after running a Marysville construction company. In Guatemala, Kinch said, the Jubies have built about 20 schools. Materials had to be ferried across a river to build the most recent one.
“I think it’s a start,” Kinch said. “We just have to take it to a different level, with this whole wave of young people coming to America.”
It doesn’t take traveling to Central America to help children there.
Five years ago, I heard a presentation at church about sponsoring children in very poor countries. The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, which has since been renamed Unbound, is one of many well-vetted charities offering child sponsorships. From pictures displayed at church, we picked out a 7-year-old Guatemalan boy. That boy, David, is now 12.
Through Unbound, I send David’s family $30 a month. He has a younger sister. My donation provides nutritional help for his family, and the means for him to go to school.
A couple times a year, I receive mail from David, pictures and a letter which is translated by Unbound. In January, his letter said “My favorite school subjects are mathematics and arts.” He wrote that he collects firewood in the fields with his father, and that he has bread and coffee at night with his family. And he added, “I thank you so much to be supporting me this year.”
On Friday, I spoke with Elizabeth Alex, community outreach and media relations director for Unbound, which is based in Kansas City, Kansas. The border crisis has drawn much attention to the group, she said. Unbound now has 150,000 sponsorships for children and elderly people in Central America.
Regarding children in legal limbo after crossing the U.S. border, she said “we’re keeping these kids in our prayers.”
“They need to be treated with dignity, and provided whatever help is necessary,” Alex said. “But we are concentrating on children being able to stay in their own neighborhoods, to grow up in their own countries. Parents don’t want to send their children on that perilous journey.”
Kinch believes we have to start somewhere. Perhaps it isn’t at the border. What if we all helped a child stay in his or her own home?
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hands for Peacemaking Foundation works to alleviate extreme poverty in Guatemala. Its annual fund-raising dinner and auction, “Heart of Guatemala,” is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Port of Everett’s Blue Heron Room, 1205 Craftsman Way, Everett. To reserve a table: 425-348-3030.
Hands for Peacemaking information: www.handsforpeacemaking.org
Unbound information: www.unbound.org