Jul 18 2011

CFCA social worker discusses community transformation

Luis Cocon, our communications liaison in Guatemala, interviewed Alberto, a CFCA social worker in Colmenas, Guatemala. Alberto, known affectionately as ìDon Beto,î has worked in Colmenas since 2004 and through CFCA, brought the first outside help the residents had received.

The community transformation since CFCAís arrival there has been impressive, owing partly to Don Betoís dedication and the people’s motivation to see their community thrive. (See a video about the transformation.)

Alberto, CFCA social worker in Colmenas

Alberto, or “Don Beto”

When and how did you start in CFCA?

In 2004 when I began working in Colmenas.

I had always longed to work with people from a remote and marginalized community; I decided to work because of my love and compassion for these families and the conditions in which they survived.

After 10 days of meeting people I decided to come with all my things to live here and I stayed at the school in the community.

My first goal was to diagnose the situation and the families’ needs. That helped me determine what kind of crops could be cultivated, and it also allowed the people’s participation.

I lived in Colmenas for five years.

What struck you in Colmenas?

The homes: these little houses were built of nylon, one narrow room and the whole family lived there. Even their dogs slept in the same place because there was no space.

They had dirt floors and lots of dust; there were no latrines; and I saw many children with poor health. The community was abandoned by the authorities and there was no vehicle access because they had no roads.

I had never seen children in such extreme conditions of malnutrition. I felt compassion, sadness and I remembered my home; I compared my life to them and realized that I am a millionaire before these families.

How did you encourage people?

I started by providing training about hygiene and health.

Giving examples of other communities where I had previously worked, I encouraged them by providing spaces for their participation in the program.

In addition I frequently visited families to show my interest and listen to them. I invited them to watch videos about hygiene and about Pope John Paul II.

People understood everything because it is more visual with video and photos. In general the community of Colmenas was anxious and wanted a change.

What personal sacrifices did you have to make?

I had to walk a lot to visit families; that was exhausting. I also had to leave my family and fit in to this community. There was much to do and so I only traveled home once a month.

At first I was a stranger here and there was no electricity or phones. The food was different; I ate only herbs and vegetables.

Today I feel more confident, I feel part of the community. I talk with the people and go to their homes as if it were my own house. I have love for these people.

What satisfaction do you have with helping?

I am happy with God for giving me the opportunity to serve; I have always had in my heart the desire to help people.

I have accomplished my commitment to the mission of CFCA, and today there is a difference in Colmenas: better housing, toilets, children going beyond primary education, more teachers in the community and trained parents in preparing and using organic fertilizer for their crops.

This is not over. There are more communities where we need to form compassion. I was born for this; I love the children and I want to serve.

What we take from this world is only the good we do with others, with no interest at all ñ just serve and carry out a mission. I will always have the people from Colmenas in my heart, and CFCA for bringing me here.

What role should a social worker have for the development of a community like Colmenas?

The social worker must have a sincere approach with families; feel part of the family and the community; provide confidence to know their reality; talk with them; and organize support groups.

The biggest challenge for development is the divisiveness of the community; we need to strengthen the sense of community and mutual support.

I thank the leaders of Colmenas who accompanied me from the beginning, I thank each family and each child for giving me their love and I thank God and CFCA for the opportunity to develop my service in Colmenas.

As social workers we become leaders; when we earn confidence and respect we achieve leadership.

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