Manuel Hernández, Andrea Xec, Doris Kizinna, Sandra Colop and Julio Cochoy gather in Chwitziribal, Guatemala, last March. (Photo courtesy Doris Kizinna)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Society

Churches and Guatemalan town team up for new school

Three Vancouver congregations raised more than $130,000

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The residents of Chwitziribal, Guatemala, and three United Church congregations celebrated the unveiling of a new school building in the town this March, after five months of construction.

Doris Kizinna, who worked for British Columbia Conference for 20 years, first fell in love with the little village on a mountaintop back in 2009 during a trip to learn Spanish. She quickly felt a connection with the community and started organizing tours for other Can­adians to visit, which included a stop at the only school in the community.

“The conditions were not conducive to a good learning environment,” says Kizinna, who explains that the building was old, the water system didn’t work properly and there were over 20 students packed into a small room.

She wanted to help, so she reached out to St. Andrew’s-Wesley, Lynn Valley and Highlands United churches in Vancouver to fundraise and file the ne­cessary paperwork to rebuild the school.

More on Broadview: Why a Catholic pharmacist saved a church in a small Ontario town

The churches raised over $130,000, which covered the cost of the construction, new classroom furniture, and kitchen dishes and appliances. The people in Chwitziribal took the lead for the design and construction. Kizinna says they were better suited to the task. “They are far more skilled … than we will ever be.”

Manuel Hernández is one of the two teachers at the elementary school and has worked there for 12 years. Through a translator, he says there is a sense of pride for the students when they tell people they attend the school. “We know it was made possible by the Can­adian United Church, but for us, it’s about Canadian friends,” he says.

For Kizinna, building the school was a way to let the community know that there are people in Canada who care. “It’s not a charity act. It’s a connecting and solidarity act.”

This story first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “Three United churches build school with Guatemalan town. For more of Broadview’s award-winning content, subscribe to the magazine today. 

Zahra Khozema is Broadview's summer digital intern.

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