Making a difference

Valley woman returns from Guatemala after house-building trip

Ryan Cooke
Published on June 28, 2014
Joan Kohler showcases some of the Guatemalan children sponsored by Arms of Jesus Children’s Fund. Kohler recently returned from Guatemala where she got the chance to meet some of the kids she sponsors, and built houses for families in need
Ryan Cooke/Truro Daily News

VALLEY – On a weekend when many parents are watching their children with pride as they graduate from high school, Joan Kohler looks at photographs of her children proudly.

She has checked in on them periodically over the last few years as they move about their lives on the other end of the continent.

You see they aren’t exactly her children. But the feelings remain the same.

“When sponsoring a child, you come to love them like your own,” she said.

Kohler recently returned to home soil after her third trip to Guatemala at the beginning of the month. A part of the Arms of Jesus Children’s Mission, Kohler was on a team of volunteers and Guatemalans that built seven houses in a week.

The houses went to families in dire need – the poorest of the poor. While the organization runs a school in Guatemala and funds generally go to sponsored families associated with the school, the housing projects can be for anyone.

Many go to families rocked by some sort of tragic event – the murder of a father, or the abandonment of children. Kohler and the team, comprised mostly of Newfoundlanders, give them what they need from the ground up. They provide them with a new and improved home, much better than the squalid homes made of corn stocks they typically live in. They give them a new wardrobe, a stove and furniture. Where a blanket on a dirt floor and a makeshift shelf used to be, there’s now a set of bunk beds and a hardwood table and chairs.

But shelter and living materials are not the biggest thing they give, Kohler said.

“The most important thing we bring is hope. It’s all about showing them that someone out there cares, and wants them to be able to break the poverty cycle and live a better life.”

With the help of six women from Valley United Church, Kohler helped raise money to bring supplies to the mountain region of Guatemala. In total, the team brought 40 hockey bags full of medical supplies and materials for babies.

The trip, which is a pay-your-own-way deal costing upwards of $2500, is not the only way to get involved.

“Everyone can help some way or another,” Kohler said. “We have so much in our society, and we could give so little to make a big difference.”

Kohler is already back in mission mode, collecting for a yard sale to take place at Valley United Church next Saturday. The sale will get underway at 8 a.m., rain or shine, and run until 2 p.m. Anyone with anything to sell can contact her at 897-6060.

“Every little bit counts,” Kohler said. “People will talk a lot about wanting change and to make a difference, but it all starts with yourself.”