'Reach' School Restoring Lives in Paraguay


CHACO, Paraguay -- In the arid region of western Paraguay, tribes in the Chaco eke out a living raising livestock and cultivating small crops.

Before 2001, native people in this part of Paraguay had little access to education. Today, the children in one indigenous community are creating a better future for themselves and their families.

Brazilian missionary Aura Lobos has worked in Paraguay for 40 years.

"It hurt me so much because I used to come here to the community center, and I noticed the indigenous people were discriminated against even by the poor in this area," Lobos told CBN News. "I was sad that they had no access to school."

That's what prompted of the Christian organization Reach International - an acronym for "Render Effective Aid to Children" - to establish a school in Chaco 200 miles from the capital, Asuncion. The school aims to give native people new opportunities.

Today the school teaches 180 children, half of them boarding students.

One serious problem they must overcome is the lack of water. The school has five 16,000-gallon tanks, but that's not nearly enough when months go by without rain.

They have found the best resource they have is prayer.

"We had a prayer vigil once with all the kids, both boarders and day students," the school principal, Zoraida Santacruz, said. "We did it with the whole community. By dawn, it was raining."

The Reach school not only helps children. Two or three times a year, volunteer doctors and dentists, as well as nursing students, conduct site visits.

For one day the school becomes a hospital and pharmacy, with free medicine for the whole community. One of the volunteers, soon to become a nurse, is a former Reach school student herself.

"The only thing I can say is don't lose faith and God will give you what you wish for. God answers prayer," former Reach student Silvia Vazquez said. "I only asked Him to give me a job, and He didn't just give me a job but also the opportunity to study. He gave me more than what I had asked for."

The children who come to this school often come from dysfunctional homes and are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, and a lack of affection.

In their community, the highest ambition for girls is to become pregnant at 14 and live as concubines. But at Reach, they find a new life and new values. They study the Word of God, which is not only transforming the children, but also their parents.

"Change happens slowly, but every year we see how children mature," teacher and chaplain Miguel Gutierrez said. "They are repeating the same things we told them. Girls say things like, 'No, I'm not going to just live with a man. I'm going to study, finish college, have a career and I will get married.' They already have their minds set on something. They have goals for their lives."

It takes about $15,000 a month to maintain the Reach school, which includes the cost of food, education, and living expenses.

Until three years ago, all those costs were covered by the Reach office in Spain. But because of the European economic crisis, they now send only $3,000 to $5,000 a month. The school may have to close its doors if it doesn't receive more financial support.

Maria Fernanda de Sawatsky, a student sponsor, said, "Education is the most important thing for our country to improve, especially if the children learn about God. So what I say to others is, 'Come, become child sponsors to give these children a chance to grow and have a future.'"

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