Madrid: Forty Initiatives Against Poverty

Today hundreds of thousands of people all over the world benefit from the many social initiatives begun under the impetus of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo. These include hospitals in Africa, programs for the training of indigenous women in Latin America, schools for the professional formation of adults in the Philippines, food banks in Europe, centers for the integration of immigrants in the United States…..

On the occasion of his beatification, and as a sign of gratitude to the successor of St. Josemaría, the Social Foundation for Strengthening Culture organized in Madrid the Encuentro Internacional Álvaro del Portillo, with the title Forty initiatives against poverty. The conference offered reflections and experiences on the social, educational and welfare work carried out by the projects urged forward by Blessed Alvaro. It was held on September 25 in the auditorium of the Fundación ONCE in Madrid, with the participation of 21 directors of these social projects coming from sixteen countries. During the conference the documentary entitled Trabajar para los demas, con Alvaro del Portillo (Working for the others, with Alvaro del Portillo) was shown, presented by its producer, the Argentinean Guillermo Canoga.

The president of the Foundation for Strengthening Culture, Jumana Trad, sent participants a welcome greeting from Iraq, where her husband, a diplomat, is currently stationed. She said that the conference “could also have been called ‘40 ways of changing the world,’ since all of these initiatives have changed the lives of many specific people.” She also stressed the harmony between St. John Paul II and Blessed Alvaro del Portillo: “Many of the initiatives which today are working against material, cultural and spiritual poverty, are the fruit of their joint efforts to construct, with deeds, a more just and human world.”

Alberto Durán, from the Foundation ONCE, said that the representatives of the projects “have presented their experiences based on personal testimonies of the beneficiaries and on data reflecting social impact on their cities and on the improvement of living conditions.”

The conference reflected on some specific features these social projects have in common: the Christian inspiration underlying them, fostered by Alvaro del Portillo; the total autonomy of the founders, who are lay professionals; and the diversity of aims adapted to the needs of each place: the struggle against poverty, improving health-care, the defense of human rights, educational undertakings, bettering the situation of women and families, among others.

One of the educational projects the public heard about was the work of the “Educar” Association in Mexico. Its director, Juan Humberto Salazar, explained that the institution promotes the development of schools for children in the Valle del Chalco, an area deeply affected by the 1985 earthquake. Up to the present, these schools have helped in the education of 1,500 children, and their social influence has benefited 30,000 Mexican families. This project began thanks to a suggestion made by Alvaro del Portillo, after learning of the earthquake’s devastating effects in this impoverished district.

With regard to the health-care projects fostered by the new blessed, the conference highlighted the development of the Niger Foundation Hospital in Enugu, Nigeria. This hospital center, inaugurated in 1993, now provides care for over 29,000 patients each year, most of them women and children. Thanks to the NGO Harambee, through donations from participants at Alvaro del Portillo’s beatification, the hospital hopes to add a maternal and children’s pavilion that will provide assistance to 12,000 more people each year. The Niger Foundation Hospital arose under the direct impetus of Alvaro del Portillo, during a trip that he made to Enugu in 1989.

The Conference also had representatives from initiatives working to eradicate poverty in the heart of developed countries. Of special relevance was the presence of the director of Rosedale, an educational center for women in New York’s Bronx. Each year this center provides supplementary education to 300 young women from disadvantaged backgrounds and tries to ensure that all of them complete their secondary studies.

The promotion of human rights, especially the dignity of women, was the topic of the session led by Bele Okoye, from the Women’s Board Educational Cooperation Society in Nigeria.

The directors of these solidarity projects stressed that education is a key factor in the battle against poverty. Very relevant here is the experience of the Centro Educative Tecnico Laboral Kinal, begun under the impetus of the new blessed in a district of Guatemala where 90% of the families live below the poverty threshold. The promoters have obtained a new, larger site where 1,200 young people and 800 adults receive training to obtain work in technical fields.

The importance of education was clearly reflected in the personal testimony given by Maxima Cora, a young indigenous woman from Bolivia. Thanks to the help of the Instituto Tecnico CEFIM, she was able to complete her high school certificate for adults and today is working as a teacher. Edin Roberto, in turn, a Quiché Mayan who was born in Totonicapan, Guatemala, spoke about his childhood spent sowing corn and making rope to sell, and expressed his joy at being given the opportunity to study technical engineering in Kinal.

Romana, No. 59, July-December 2014, p. 364-366.

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