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When Manitoba Hydro technical assistant Arlene Macklem, first vice-president of Local 998, visited Guatemala earlier this year, she took a box full of CUPE shirts and other supplies with her. Here’s what she did with them.

“I had a great time although pursuing some of my goals was very emotional. I visited an orphanage and spent time playing with the little ones (age 2 and under) and when we left, the babies started crying.

“We donated some of the supplies, including CUPE stuff, to the poorest children attending school in a village called Santa Cruz Bylamja. It is very difficult to contact the poorest of the poor because these children do not attend school.

“Some groups are addressing this problem like the one in Guatemala City working with the ‘garbage’ children. The rest of the supplies (crayons, markers, etc.) went to a school in a remote area in the highlands. I figured that we would drop off the supplies and leave, but the whole school gave us a royal welcome with singing dances and lunch. It was very moving and unexpected.

“The principal gave us a list of supplies that they need. The hope is that they can organize an adopt-a-school project. Some of the children do not have shoes, warm clothing (it gets cold in the highlands) or food. Some only eat one meal a day, the one provided at school.”

Arlene is back in Winnipeg now, but she’s already planning ways to do more work in Guatemala next year. One of the ideas is to set up an ongoing project with a Guatemalan public sector union and use the Global Justice Fund to build union solidarity.