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Jose Monzon Rural School is in Jalpatagua in the southeast part of Guatemala. It is not named after a retired member of CUPE’s British Columbia health care division, the Hospital Employees’ Union. But it might have been. Here’s why.

For 13 years Jose Waldemar Monzon Ortigozza has been working with the Fraternity to Help Guatemalan Children. When he visits the various schools, about 11 of them in villages such as Jalpatagua, he brings boxes of school supplies.

A long-time HEU activist, Jose served on the union’s international solidarity committee. Before that he was an active unionist in his native Guatemala, serving with the Guatemalan Trade Counsel Federation and the Health care Workers’ Union.

Jose has lived in Canada since 1979 when he was granted refugee status. In 1980, he got a job doing maintenance work in a regional hospital laundry where he stayed until his retirement in 2005.

“During all those years, I was a proud member of the Hospital Employees’ Union and for 25 years I participated in all the activities and fights HEU has had to face,” he says. And he hasn’t lost touch with the union movement back home either.

In 1995, Jose and 25 Guatemalans and Canadians founded the fraternity. Since then, they have completed more than 30 projects, including the construction of a small school as well as a medical clinic.

HEU has assisted with the projects, providing help when needed. For example, when hurricane Stan hit Guatemala, HEU helped send food and medicine to the people in need, Jose recalls. In 2005, various schools were equipped with desks. And last year, 15,000 notebooks were distributed at the 11 rural schools.

Asked why this international solidarity work is so important to him, he replied: “When someone fights for the poor, being poor, one never forgets where he/she comes from. I never wanted to leave Guatemala, but I was forced to, due to threats on my life. The security forces of the government in power in 1978 murdered six comrades-compañeros from my union. I barely managed to escape alive.

Why is it important to HEU? “I am not the one to answer that question. However, I can emphasize how kind hearted all the HEU members are. Without seeing first hand the poverty in Guatemala, they support us with the struggles Guatemala faces where families of five must survive on $1.78 a day. HEU’s support in countries like mine enforces international solidarity.”