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Guatemala: Migrants supported with food, care on their journey

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Salesian missionaries assist migrants at Casa Bethania in San Benito Petén

(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries at the Salesian parish in San Benito Petén operate the Casa Bethania for Migrants, one of two homes for migrants in Petén, Guatemala. In addition, two Salesian parishes on the border in Naranjo and Melchor are stopovers for migrants who cross the country on their way to Mexico and the United States.

"At the moment, the flow of migration is very strong as everyone wants to try to reach the 'American Dream'," said Father Giampiero De Nardi, a Salesian missionary in charge of the Salesian house in San Benito. "We have also prepared the corridors of the house so that people can sleep there. They have a clear goal and do not want to delay their journey. They just want to eat something, sleep and move on."

Casa Bethania, which complies with all COVID-19 safety regulations, normally serves 55 people a day. Given the safety precautions, now only 30 people are served each day. They receive food and a place to sleep as well as medical care from a volunteer nurse from Spain. In the home, migrants also receive psychological support and those who may need asylum are identified. People whose life is in danger are classified as refugees as they are fleeing situations of violence in their countries.

The house functions thanks to volunteers from the parish who help cleaning the rooms, preparing food and collecting food. The house has been active for about four years and has served close to 18,000 meals. Currently, most of the migrants come from Honduras, and in many cases, are people who were hard hit by Hurricanes Eta and Iota last year.

"There are people who have lost everything including their homes," added Fr. De Nardi. "A young man told us how he saw his partner die as she was being carried away by the strong current of a river. She was all his family. They come in large groups, entire families, even with grandparents. In their passage through Guatemala, they had problems with the police, mistreatment, and everything was very difficult for them. Right now, the only goal they have is to get to the United States. They want nothing else and are not interested in any other option."

Rural poverty hasn't changed much in Guatemala during the last 20 years, according to the World Bank. While 70 percent of Guatemalan citizens live below the poverty line, the number is as high as 91 percent for its indigenous population. Many rural residents in Guatemala have only completed a 6th-grade education. This is largely due to the expenses required to send children to schools which are often located far from their homes.

Salesian missionaries working and living in the country have been providing for the basic needs of Guatemala's youth while helping to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. They work extensively with poor youth and their families at youth centers, orphanages, parishes, and primary and secondary schools as well as operate technical schools, vocational training workshops and two universities in the country.