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Farmers Extend Helping Hand Catholic Relief Agency, Area Wheat Growers Team Up To Send Grain To Bolivia

While running two combines and three trucks to harvest 2,700 acres of wheat, the Gooley family keeps turning its thoughts to the Quechua Indians of Bolivia.

The Quechuas, who live in central Bolivia, are harvesting their three-acre fields with livestock and hoes.

The peasants, who are among the poorest people in Bolivia, soon will be eating a portion of the Gooleys’ harvest.

Inland Northwest farmers are donating thousands of bushels of their soft white wheat to Catholic Relief Services in Bolivia.

The wheat will be parceled out to families as payment for participation in a host of training programs that eventually will teach them to be better farmers.

The Harvest for Hope project is one of the first attempts within the vast expanses of the Roman Catholic Church to partner two very different dioceses for the purpose of charity.

It is an experiment in commodities as well as spirituality, said Bishop William S. Skylstad, head of the Spokane Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and a board member of Catholic Relief Services.

“What is desperately needed today is the development of personal relationships,” Skylstad said. “We need to foster this kind of interaction, where we know their story and they know ours.”

More than 7,400 bushels of soft white wheat from the Inland Northwest will be shipped to Seattle, where it will be divided into 50-pound bags, small enough for one man to carry. From there, the bags will be routed to Chile, then carted over the mountains to Bolivia.

Relief workers will distribute the food to 470 families. In exchange for wheat, families will participate in reforestation, soil conservation and irrigation projects.

The hope is that with better education and farming techniques, the families will be able to make their small farms produce enough lima beans and potatoes to sell in nearby markets.

Currently, those families are going through hard times because they cannot raise enough food to make a living, said Jose Maguina, director of the relief project.

The men often leave home during the growing season to work on corporate farms. The women and children are left behind to tend the land.

Maguina hopes to convince the men to stay home and participate in the project by allocating 360 pounds of wheat to each family.

Families will be able to earn more wheat by planting seedlings on their deforested land, digging irrigation ditches and terracing their land. Those efforts should improve the soil and prevent erosion.

Agricultural experts are convinced that once those projects are completed, the families will boost crop yields.

“I think it’s entirely possible that they will be able to move beyond subsistence farming to more of a cash crop,” said Washington State University agricultural professor Steve Ulrich. “But that’s a long road.”

It’s a new approach for Catholic Relief Services, which was formed during World War II by American bishops who wanted to help refugees. Since then, the organization has grown into one of the world’s largest private charities, run by professionals. Rarely are there opportunities for the average parishioner to get involved.

Skylstad hopes to change that, starting with his own diocese. He recruited Judy Butler, a member of St. Mary’s Church in the Spokane Valley, to head a new committee.

“I have had this increasing interest in the global community,” Butler said. “I think there is a place for people like me to learn to help the people of developing countries.”

Butler, 50, said the more she learns about Third World needs, the more she is driven to help. “Most of us don’t realize how many people are living every day without running water and enough to eat,” she said.

Butler assembled a group of Catholic wheat farmers from across the region. In addition to donating their own wheat, they are asking their neighbors to give.

“We have been so incredibly blessed in this area - incredibly blessed,” said Jo Gooley, matriarch of the Gooley family. “The last few years have been very good for us. We can’t even imagine what it would be like to farm and live in the conditions of Bolivia.”

The project is bringing the global relationships that Skylstad prays for one step closer to reality.

“I didn’t know exactly where Cochabamba (Bolivia) was at,” said Bob Druffel, a Colton, Wash., farmer on the committee. “Now I know that they are up there between 9,000 and 10,000 feet (above sea level) raising potatoes - and having a pretty hard time of it, too.”

Skylstad said he feels the world is ripe for such projects. More people are aware of the needs around the globe because of increased communications and travel.

Now, people need to take the next step and get involved on a personal level, he said.

“Every person is a brother or sister of God,” he said. “Whatever needs they have become my needs. Whatever resources we have for helping bond the human family together.”

This year in the Inland Northwest, there is wheat to spare.

To donate to Harvest for Hope, write to Catholic Relief Services/Diocese of Spokane, 1023 W. Riverside, Spokane 99201, or call (509) 456-7150.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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