In the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America, the countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala form a violent triad. The murder rate is higher in this region than in most active war zones. Gangs, cartels, and vigilantes impose their will, taking over or co-opting legitimate police forces and routinely terrorizing average citizens. A recent study identified 54 separate criminal groups in Guatemala alone. For many citizens of this region, fleeing north through Mexico to the US border is a less risky proposition than dealing with daily life in their hometown.
In the middle of this violence sits the town of San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán, a picturesque oasis of calm with a population of about 6,000 people. What sets this place apart are the efforts of Jeaneth Ordoñez, the Christian mayor who has united the townspeople in their quest to keep the municipality free of the violence and upheaval that surrounds them.
“This is a very special place,” says Eduardo Gallo, a Cuban-born medical doctor whom Ordoñez brought to town to help with health care. “We have the opportunity to improve people’s lives and to do it with love. The mayor has created a remarkable environment.”
Ordoñez’s motivation to protect and provide for her people comes directly from her faith. “God has put me in this place and given me a love and desire to serve my people and make their lives better,” she says. “I have faith in God and I love the people.”
About two hours outside of Guatemala City, the municipality encompasses a small town and a large rural area where high unemployment means poverty is all too common, as it is throughout the country. But Ordoñez casts a big vision and has already made huge strides in improving health, education, sanitation, and clean water.
San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán is the only town in Guatemala with 100 percent literacy. Edna Galicia, a local teacher, reports that “many families here are living in poverty, but they know education is important so they make it a priority for their children.”
On the health front, the mayor convinced Gallo to come for a year to help set up a more effective health care system. (When his contract ended, he chose to stay on.) San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán was also recently chosen as a pilot site for a Pediatric Antibiotic Initiative, a partnership between MAP International and Food for the Poor that supplies free pediatric antibiotics to patients in need. The program requires careful record-keeping and follow up with patients, something the town’s clinic is able to provide.
“We believe that supplying pediatric antibiotics to this municipality can help them improve the health of their children and provide even more excellent care,” says Steve Stirling, president and CEO of MAP International.
Mayor Jeaneth, as she prefers to be called, regularly walks around town and is embraced by young and old as she stops to listen to a story or a request from one of her citizens. “I know most of the people and they know me. We are building a better life together.”
When asked how she works so tirelessly, she says simply, “God gives me the strength.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Dale Hanson Bourke