Focus on children leads Kadlec provider to Guatemala
Athalia Clower has always wanted to help people.
And she has done so for more than 25 years.
“I have been a certified physician assistant (PA-C) since 1993,” said Clower in an email interview. “I started working for Kadlec during March of 2010.”
For Clower, this has been a high calling.
But so has her charity work.
She said in January 2010, she and her husband Randy, also a PA-C, stayed in a remote village in the jungle of Guatemala, “training a team of Kekchi Indians on first aid, assessment of conditions that need transport to the hospital (which is about six hours away by motorized vehicle), evaluation and treatment of dehydration in infants and adults, basic prenatal care, and other helpful medical/community health topics.”
For several years, the Clowers have been part of a group of Tri-Citians and a Korean water engineer who have made multiple trips to the jungle of Guatemala to take medicines, eye care, the Bible and clean water.
It became clear to the group that it needed more of a presence in the country to make a bigger impact.
And for the Clowers, this became an even higher calling.
It’s called The Ezra Project, and it’s run in a small town in Guatemala.
“One day in 2011, God told me to start a nonprofit,” Clower said. “I thought it was to have medical missions to go to Sudan. Usually we had the medical missions through our church (Richland Baptist Church), but Sudan would be too much liability for anybody.”
Guatemala became the goal.
So in 2011, The Ezra Project was formed in the United States. At the same time, the group formed El Proyecto Ezra de Guatemala to have a legal identity in Guatemala.
Guatemala is in Central America, and it shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador; the Pacific and Atlantic oceans touch its beaches.
It also is a poor country.
Clower said she was offered at one point an abandoned baby to bring back from Guatemala, and she thought it would be better to have a home for many of these children.
Many babies in Guatemala are abandoned after birth. They are found in fields, latrines or if they are born in the hospital, they are never picked up. Many infants and children die of pneumonia and diarrheal infections.
“A guy offered our church a piece of land to build the home,” Clower said. “The church thought it would be too much liability to absorb, and we decided Ezra (project) could get the land to work on the home. The land fell through.”
Clower said her group encountered opposition from indigenous groups who requested water, home and electricity in exchange of allowing use of the roads.
“We decided they would never be satisfied and we left the land to go rent a house in town,” Clower said. “This is a very common occurrence. Roads are blocked, you are locked in and have to meet their demands.”
The Ezra Project has four missions:
- Get water into the village.
- Set up medical and dental services there.
- Open a home for mothers with children so babies aren’t left out to die due to a lack of money and a place to stay.
- Teach people the Bible and give them the knowledge of salvation.
The last seven years have been a grind.
The group has worked with Guatemalan government agencies to obtain a license to be able to provide the home for abandoned babies and children—finally getting the license late in January.
The paperwork and other requirements were quite extensive; and the daily administration of the home involves a lot of procedures and documentation. The license is very much needed to avoid accusations of kidnapping; and to have a legitimate, accountable, transparent, and legal presence in both countries.
In May, the group was going to open the doors, then found out there is no water in the entire town.
“Water is used as a political weapon,” Clower said. “So, our water engineer friend, Daniel Kwon from ACOWI (A Cup of Water International) gifted us two well digging machines that we plan to use after elections are over. Primary elections were June 16 and a second round (took) place on Aug. 11. The political situation is another long story.”
Clower said the group just bought a much-needed truck. “A mechanic friend checked seven trucks before we bought No. 8. We were looking to buy a used vehicle to go back and forth from our town to the city (Guatemala City),” Clower said. “Due to the roads, which are pretty steep and full of holes, we need a standard, diesel, 4-by-4. The weather is very hot. The traffic is crazy. Looking around, people work very hard, they are always smiling and friendly, although facing many hardships.”
Yet the project is so close to reality that Clower left her job at the West Richland Primary Clinic in July for Guatemala.
She says The Ezra Project is now in Guatemala to open The Isaiah 58 Home.
“We will have to make more modifications to our small rental so we can store and purify large quantities of water,” she said. “In the home, we also have a very simple one-room clinic.”
Clower said the group is licensed to house seven children up to the age of 10.
“After the government sees how we are doing, they can allow us to have more,” she said. “We made the paperwork and arrangement with the government that if the children are or become 10, they can remain in the home.”
While she will be spending most of her time at this clinic, Clower says she will eventually come back to the Tri-Cities for short stays.
“We have a saying, ‘Guatemala, where plans go to die,’ ” Clower said. “Fortunately, God always turns things to better than we had planned. As of now, the main goal is to get the water system ready so we can have kids.
“When people from our group can come and supervise while I am gone, I will go (back) to work,” she continued. “I have an amazing husband that hope is with me soon, either here or there.”
Meanwhile, she knows this is what she was meant to do.
“Anyone who comes to Guatemala and sees the situation some of the children face would have a heart to intervene,” Clower said. “The Ezra Project is not only me. We have a board of directors and many donors who believe, with God’s help, we can make a difference for the children, their families and community.
“The Ezra Project is the result of God leading a group of ordinary people step by step to help children in our little town close to the mountains,” Clower said. “If it is one child he has in mind, it is OK. Giving one child a childhood, food, a home, love, and truth is worth our efforts, which are very enjoyable and exciting.”
Sign-up for our e-newsletter filled with featured stories and latest news.