Tag: Guatemala

Jun 19 2018

Guatemalans face uncertain futures after Fuego

Families displaced by volcano wait with unease

Sponsored youth Crisla and her mother, Maria, stay in a shelter after being displaced by the Fuego volcano eruption.


After most natural disasters, people are eventually able to go back home, clean up the material damage and rebuild their lives. The losses of loved ones, valued possessions and means of earning a living take longer to heal, but being home is always a good beginning.

The people displaced by the June 3 eruption of the Fuego volcano in south-central Guatemala hope to be able to go home soon, but for many when — and even if — that will happen is far from certain. Many towns and villages are still considered uninhabitable. Volcanic ash, exacerbated by heavy rains, continues to be a health hazard and toxic material still flows intermittently down the volcano’s southeastern slope. Conditions in some places have only recently become tolerable enough for recovery efforts.

According to Reuters, the official Guatemalan disaster agency, CONRED, said on Sunday that search efforts have been permanently suspended in the most heavily impacted areas of the Escuintla municipality, which are still considered at high risk.

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 people were being housed in shelters or staying with family members or friends, according to an estimate by the Guatemalan health ministry. That number included about 150 members of the Unbound community.
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Jun 13 2018

For those affected by the Fuego volcano eruption

Vulnerability is a relentless fact of life for families in the developing world. We were yet again reminded of that sad truth this past week when, with little warning, the Fuego volcano in south-central Guatemala erupted.

The resulting flow of lava, ash and pyroclastic material has brought devastation to a widespread area. As of this writing, more than 200 people are still missing and the death toll exceeds 100. As rescue and recovery workers gain greater access to the most heavily impacted areas, that number is expected to rise.

The people confronted with this tragedy enter in fellowship with those whose lives have been disrupted by other recent volcanic activity, including the Mayon volcano in the Philippines and Mount Kilauea in Hawaii. A long period of recovery awaits those affected by these events, including many in the Unbound community. As they face the challenges ahead, they will be strengthened by their resilient spirit and encouraged by our care and that of other loving people.

Read more about the eruption of the Fuego volcano and its impact on the Unbound community.

Donate to Disaster Response to help Unbound provide assistance to families affected by events like the eruption of the Fuego volcano.

Please pray

God of compassion, bless and sustain the people of Guatemala. Console the grieving and give them hope as they seek to rebuild their lives. May we be part of their blessing, pouring out our love in acts of generosity and service. As we commit ourselves to living as their compañeros — their companions on the long journey toward wholeness — help us to never forget that we are your hands in the world, not just for a moment but always. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Ash clouds from the eruption of Guatemala's Fuego volcano threaten farmland.
Jun 8 2018

What’s ahead for Guatemala

Long recovery awaits those impacted by Fuego volcano

The immediate danger from the Fuego volcano is far from over, but even after it passes consequences will likely be felt by the people of south-central Guatemala for years.

The first concerns will be caring for survivors, accounting for the missing and burying the dead. The official death toll as of June 7 was 109 with nearly 200 missing, but those figures will almost certainly rise as rescue and recovery workers are able to progress into the areas of greatest impact, where up until now efforts have been hampered by the severe conditions.

Local Unbound staff members are working to account for all sponsored persons and their families in hard-hit areas, all of which are served by the Unbound Hermano Pedro ECA program. At this time staff members have been able to verify that most are safe in either evacuation shelters or the homes of relatives. Nine families remain unaccounted for and efforts to contact them have, so far, been unsuccessful.

In times of natural disasters and other emergencies, Unbound will notify sponsors directly if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously affected.

Ash threatens crops

When those now residing in evacuation shelters are able to return to their homes, the effects of the volcano will endure. According to the Volcano Hazards Program of the U.S. Geological Survey, “Ashfall can have significant impacts on crops much like pasture land. Physical impacts from additional weight of ash on leaves, partial burial and stem/branch snapping all prevent the plants natural processes such as photosynthesis, transpiration and water content leading to crop failure.” Such a widespread failure will not only impact local farmers, but be felt throughout the rest of Guatemala and the other Central and South American countries that import their produce.

Animals also may be affected by the ash. The Volcano Hazards Program states that, “Livestock eating pasture that is contaminated with ash can suffer and die from gastrointestinal blockages. Shortages of uncontaminated feed and water after an ashfall can also lead to starvation.”

Even if any agricultural products do survive, transporting them may be a challenge, according to Unbound’s director of international programs, Dan Pearson, who has been closely monitoring the situation in Guatemala.

“There is some concern that the new lava flow could reach the coastal highway, the larger of the two highways that connect Mexico and the U.S. with the rest of Central America,” Pearson said. “Even temporary closure of that highway would cause significant transportation challenges that would negatively impact Guatemala’s economy.”

Heavy rains loom

To make matters worse, it’s now the rainy season in Guatemala, and people there are in a race against time to try to clear as much ash as possible from plants and roads before the heaviest rains come. The combination of rain and volcanic ash produces a concrete-like substance that blocks waterways and clogs drainage systems, leading to even worse flash flooding than usual.

“The rainy season starts in early to mid-May and it ends in late September or early October,” Unbound communications liaison director Henry Flores said. “In the middle of that season is when the strongest rains arrive. In Guatemala, rains are especially strong for several reasons. One is that it’s high up from sea level, especially the area where the volcano is located. Also, there are lots of coffee plantations around it, which are basically forests, so the rain gets pretty strong there.”

The rainy season always brings health hazards in the form of respiratory and water-borne diseases, but with so many displaced persons living in close proximity in shelters, those hazards will likely increase.

Staff members from Unbound’s Hermano Pedro and Atitlan programs are working to assist people affected by the volcano. As the level of need becomes clearer, they will be available to support sponsored members and their families in their long-term recovery.

What you can do

  • Donate to Disaster Response. Unbound’s Disaster Response fund provides assistance to families in the aftermath of events like the eruption of the Fuego volcano.
  • Make sure your contact information is up to date. In times of natural disaster, Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, so keeping your information up to date is important.
  • Pray. The Unbound community holds all those affected and those assisting with rescue efforts in our thoughts and prayers.
  • Check here for updates. We’ll continue to update our blog as we receive additional information.
Jun 5 2018

Fuego volcano erupts in Guatemala

Hardships loom as families lose homes, crops

June 8 update:

Unbound staff members in Guatemala are continuing their efforts to confirm the safety of families who live in an area included in the immediate disaster zone of the volcanic eruption and are served through our Hermano Pedro ECA program. As of June 7, efforts to communicate with nine families of our sponsored friends in the area have been unsuccessful. Additional volcanic activity and rain are complicating search-and-rescue efforts, but Unbound staff are on site providing direct support to displaced families, and more have joined from other regions of Guatemala to assist. Other areas where Unbound sponsored members reside are located outside of the immediate disaster zone, but have been seriously impacted by ash and debris, causing significant damage to homes and crops. Unbound supports more than 68,000 children, youth and elders in Guatemala. Read more about the current and long-term challenges many families around the region face here.

IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR SPONSORED FRIEND

  • Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted.
  • Make sure your contact information is up to date by logging in to your account.
  • Please be patient as local Unbound staff work to confirm families’ safety.
  • Continue following this blog post or our Facebook page for additional updates.

The ash plume from Guatemala’s Fuego volcano as seen by local Unbound staff.

Updated June 6, 2018

In the aftermath of Sunday’s eruption of the Fuego volcano in south-central Guatemala, Unbound staff members are continuing their efforts to contact sponsored persons and their families in the area. Unbound has identified 16 families who live in areas immediately impacted by the eruption. All are from the Unbound Hermano Pedro ECA program. It is possible that families in other local programs have also been affected, but these are the only ones we know about at this time.

Oscar Tuch, communications liaison in Guatemala, reports that the affected families live in three villages within the area most immediately impacted by Sunday’s eruption. In times of natural disaster, Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, and we will be contacting the sponsors of those families directly.

Unbound communities affected

“The situation has been complicated due to the great magnitude of the disaster,” Tuch said. “In the department (state) of Escuintla we provide attention to three communities, specifically La Trinidad, Don Pancho and Aldea El Rodeo.”

Unbound staff in Guatemala clean up ash after the Fuego volcano erupted.

The village of El Rodeo was especially hard hit by the rapidly flowing lava and ash. Unbound staff members have been able to verify that some sponsored individuals and their families were evacuated to shelters and one is staying with relatives and receiving aid from Unbound, but as of this writing staff have been unable to contact the remaining families.

“The situation is an active rescue operation in which the first responders and Guatemalan army are participating,” Unbound international programs staff member Nelson Vowels said. “They have purposely limited access to the area while they search for survivors. In due time, the team will have details about individual families and to what degree they are affected.”

Future impact

Far beyond the area of immediate impact, many people, including members of the Unbound community, have lost crops as a result of the falling ash.

“It’s probably safe to assume that this is the case for anyone sponsored through (Unbound’s local program) based out of Antigua,” Vowels said.

Since other Central and South American countries buy produce from Guatemala, the long-term consequences of the volcano erupting may be severe, Tuch said.

“It really is so hard and so painful to have to live and face this reality,” he said. “This is just the beginning of the tragedy because after this storm we for sure will face a nutritional crisis due to the lost crops, the reconstruction of the communities and the restoration of the families that have been separated.”

According to CNN, at least 69 persons have been reported dead so far as a result of the volcano, but with rescue workers hampered by the intense conditions, it’s likely that number will rise in the coming days.

What you can do

  • Donate to Disaster Response. Unbound’s Disaster Response fund provides assistance to families in the aftermath of events like the eruption of the Fuego volcano.
  • Make sure your contact information is up to date. In times of natural disaster, Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, so keeping your information up to date is important.
  • Pray. The Unbound community holds all those affected and those assisting with rescue efforts in our thoughts and prayers.
  • Check here for updates. We’ll continue to update this story as we receive additional information.
Dec 2 2017

‘We never saw him as a stranger’

Q&A with Concepcion in Guatemala about Father Stanley Rother

Concepcion sits on the steps outside the church in Santiago Atitlan where Blessed Stanley Rother served as pastor.


Blessed Stanley Francis Rother was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. It was the final step before formal recognition as a saint. Father Rother, an American priest who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981, was a contemporary of Unbound’s late co-founders Bob Hentzen and Jerry Tolle.

Our organization has long felt a special affinity for Father Rother, who, in the Tz’utujil dialect of those he served, was affectionately called “Padre A’plas” (Father Francisco). Several of those who knew and worked with him are also members of the Unbound community. The following interview, which took place in Guatemala in October, is with one of those individuals.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Concepcion, and on Oct. 11 I will turn 62 years old. I have 11 children. The eldest is 45 years old and the youngest is 15 years old. I now have 13 grandchildren.

My husband is 69 years old, and he works the in the field. I take care of the household duties, and whenever I have a chance I make traditional clothing.
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An archive image of Father Stanley Rother at a carnival in Guatemala.
Sep 18 2017

Father Stanley Rother, a symbol of generosity and peace

Reflections from Guatemala on the occasion of his beatification

An archive image of Father Stanley Rother at a Carnival celebration in Guatemala.

Father Stanley Rother at a Carnival celebration in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Father Stanley Francis Rother served in Guatemala at the mission in Santiago Atitlan starting in 1968. As the Guatemalan civil war raged between military and guerilla forces, the Catholic Church became a target. Determined to stay with the people, Father Stan remained in Guatemala and was murdered in July 1981.

Unbound’s co-founder Bob Hentzen met Father Stan while working in Guatemala. Father Stan’s love for God and people has long served as inspiration for our work.

In December 2016, Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of Father Stan, whose beatification (the final step before sainthood) will take place Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. Father Stan was a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and is the first recognized Catholic martyr born in the United States.

Unbound staff member Barclay Martin recently traveled to Guatemala and listened to the stories of many who knew Father Stan, and here he reflects on that journey.

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An image of Blanca wearing her running medals.
Jun 12 2017

Running for love

Guatemalan mom dedicated to family, sport


People go running for many reasons. Some do it to get healthy, some for the competition and some to support a cause. Blanca is a 29-year-old mom of four living in Guatemala whose daughter, Berberlin, 13, is sponsored by Wayne from Montana. Blanca is also a runner. Her main reason for running is simple: to support her family.
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Jun 3 2016

Law student gives back through his work with Unbound

Carlos Lopez, a former sponsored child and now Unbound staff member, stands in his home in Guatemala.

Carlos Lopez, a former sponsored child and now Unbound staff member, stands in his home in Guatemala.

Carlos Lopez has seen his life transform from humble roots to a bright future.

With the help and encouragement he received from Unbound and his longtime sponsor, today Carlos serves as a legal adviser for Unbound’s Hermano Pedro program, supporting the very community that that helped him grow up. He recently completed law school.

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Sponsored child Cindy from Guatemala reads a letter from her sponsor.
May 20 2016

Guatemala mail stoppage delays sponsors’ letters

Sponsored child Cindy from Guatemala reads a letter from her sponsor.

Sponsored child Cindy from Guatemala reads a letter from her sponsor.


An interruption in Guatemala’s postal services has delayed the delivery of letters to children and elders sponsored through Unbound.

Mail services in Guatemala halted May 18 as the company that operates those services attempted to negotiate a new contract with the Guatemalan government, local news agencies reported.

Sponsors should expect delays in their letters reaching children and elders even after mail service resumes, since Unbound offices will have a backlog of letters to process.

The disruption in mail service will not affect the delivery of letters from sponsored children and elders in Guatemala to their sponsors, however, since Unbound uses a private delivery service for correspondence sent to the U.S.

We encourage sponsors, especially at this time, to communicate with their sponsored friends in Guatemala using our convenient eLetter option. Visit unbound.org/eletter to learn more.