Guatemala trip close to a reality
WORTHINGTON -- For some children, a trip to grandmother's house isn't as simple as going "over the river and through the woods," as a popular holiday song says.
In July, 17 American-born children of Guatemalan immigrants will travel almost 2,000 miles to the country of their heritage through a local effort called Abuelos y Nietos Juntos --Grandparents and Grandchildren Together -- where they will meet their grandparents, and in a couple of instances, siblings, for the first time. Many of Worthington's immigrant families are from the same general region of Guatemala.
Because the logistics of such an endeavor are complicated -- many of the families live in small villages in the mountains -- an advance party of the program's organizers recently made a trip to Guatemala to meet the families and scout the locations.
"Now we have an idea of how we're going to set things up with our volunteers, so a volunteer can be close by," to each of the families, explained Lisa Kremer, who conceived the project following several trips to Guatemala and working with the local immigrant population. "They won't stay with the families, but they will be able to get there really quickly. The (children's) parents want them to stay with their grandparents, but we realize these are kids, and we don't know how they're going to react. They've never traveled before, never met their grandparents before, so they are virtual strangers even if they are family."
Kremer was joined on the recent trip by Father Jim Callahan and Father Luis Vargas from St. Mary's Catholic Parish in Worthington; and Kathy Klos, who works with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. Additionally, filmmaker Luis Argueta, who has documented the immigrant experience, joined the party along with two crew members. Argueta plans to make a new documentary about Abuelos y Nietos Juntos, and did some advance filming with the family members in Guatemala.
For Kremer, the effort is about reconnecting families and giving voice to the people whose fate will be determined by immigration policies. That was brought home when Callahan and Vargas participated in a Mass at the church in San Lorenzo, Guatemala.
"Father Jim first asked how many people there had family in Worthington, and I don't know how many stood up, but it was quite a few," related Kremer. "Then he said, 'Now stand up if you have family in the United States,' and probably 75 percent of the people stood up."
The children who will make the trip -- seven boys and 10 girls -- range in age from 9 to 18. They will be accompanied by about a dozen volunteer chaperones. Two of the youths not only have grandparents and other extended family members living in Guatemala, but siblings.
"That was the most emotional thing on the trip," said Kremer about their visits with the families. "This one boy is 14, and his younger brother (in Worthington) is 9. When we got there, he just started to weep. He lives with an aunt and uncle. We have another girl who has a sister there, and she also lives with an aunt and uncle. It just really strengthens the thought that we have to do something about immigration so families aren't divided.
"Visiting with the families there, you absolutely get a sense of how important this is to them," Kremer added. "To hear them express over and over again, 'Thank you for bringing my grandchildren. You don't know how long I've waited for this,' is pretty incredible."
In addition to covering a lot of territory to visit the families, the Worthington group met with government officials and organizations that will help pave the way for the July trip, including the foreign minister of Guatemala.
"It all became real to all of us," Kremer said. "We're actually going to be able to do this."
So far, sponsorships have been received for seven children, and Kremer expressed the hope that more will come through in the months to come. The local families are conducting fundraisers, and Kremer has received commitments to raise money from some of the other Catholic parishes in the area.
The advance trip also helped the organizers firm up their "wish list" for the endeavor. These additional needs have been highlighted:
l Two more male volunteer chaperones for the July trip, preferably bilingual.
l An intern or volunteer for 10-20 hours per week to work on the website, help with organizing travel plans and publicity.
l Portable water purification systems for all volunteers and children traveling.
l Discounted airline tickets or donated airline reward miles.
l Medical supplies for the trip.
Airline reservations have not yet been made for the July travel party, although specific dates have been determined.
"We intend to leave the country on July 1 and be back on the 12th or 13th," Kremer said. "The kids will actually spend a week in their grandparents' homes by the time we get them to the area where we are going. It's approximately a six-hour drive to the main village, and then another couple hours for most of the other ones there, so we need to break up the trip. You don't travel at night. The mission at San Lucas is about three hours from the airport, so we'll spend one night there going and then again coming back. It will be a good place to orient them to the country. After all, these are American kids."
For more information on Abuelos y Nietos Juntos, go to the website, http://www.abuelosynietosjuntos.com, or contact Kremer via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or at St. Gabriel's in Fulda, (507) 425-2369; or leave a message at the St. Mary's rectory, 376-6005.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.