A Little Help Does A LOT In Guatemala

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Published: The Oregonian, Metro West, Sunrise Edition, Thursday, October 26, 2006
Byline: Michelle Mandel

A Beaverton man gets supplies, raises money for a school with impoverished studentsWayne Hess of Beaverton has traveled to Guatemala four times since 2003 to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. Wanting to learn Spanish, he hooked up with a school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.Through that connection, he was introduced to another school—for Mayan children—in La Pedrera. That launched 71-year-old Hess, a retired certified public accountant, on a new life journey. Now he spends much of his time finding clothing, school supplies and computers to benefit the 90 or so impoverished children who attend the school. Here Hess talks about his quest.

Q: What inspired you to help this school?

A: Right away, after meeting the children, I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to help further their education. Their parents, who have migrated in from the highlands, are unskilled laborers, most who do menial tasks for the lowest wages possible.

Q: What are the children like?

A: They range in age from 6 to 15 or 16. Usually at that age they’re almost forced to go to work. They live in what we would consider a slum area. Their homes have dirt floors. Some have thatched roofs. There are no bathroom facilities. Their water is trucked in and placed in 55-gallon drums.

Q: How did you first start helping?

A: I brought down school supplies, anything I could think of. Then I discovered I could buy the supplies cheaper in Guatemala. What they do is buy one textbook, then copy it on a copy machine.

Q: Where do you get the money to help?

A: I use my personal resources, to the extent that I can. Then I turn to friends, family and business acquaintances. I make a lot of phone calls. When we took clothing to Guatemala, my wife made almost 80 dresses. And my dentist and hygienist donated toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Q: What motivated you to seek computers for the school?

A: I was talking to the leader of the school, trying to figure out their greatest need. Early on, she wanted to put a toilet in the school building. But the children are used to not having a toilet. The school leader decided they could use a computer more. So I raised enough funds to buy a desktop computer. Then I raised funds to take down four good laptop computers.

Q: You’re headed to Guatemala again in January. How many computers are you taking this time?

A: Four more laptops and 15 desktop computers donated by the Portland law firms of Barran Liebman, and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. The Portland Rotary sends down a container of goods to the same area. The computers are going with that shipment.

Q: What’s your next goal for the school?

A: I’m raising money to build a second story on the schoolhouse. So far I’ve raised about $1,000 of the $4,000 needed for the materials. Families are donating the labor.

Q: How has this project affected your life?

A: It’s given me an absolute, total appreciation of how well off we are in the United States. It takes so little to satisfy these people. And whatever they have, they’re willing to share.

Q: How can Oregonians help your cause?

A: By making donations. People can reach me at info@lapedreraschoolproject.com or by calling me at 503-641-1009.