EARLY last year one of the most severe earthquakes in the last 50 years shook the entire isthmus of Central America and devastated Guatemala. When the appalling statistics of the disaster finally emerged, they revealed a catalogue of immense loss: some 25,000 dead, 90,000 injured, and over one and a quarter million made homeless.
Now Guatemala is painfully rebuilding its ravaged economy while its people try to piece together their shattered lives.
But Guatemala is very poor. More help from international voluntary organisations and relief agencies is desperately needed.
A start has been made, however, Prominent among individual relief projects is "Operation Rehabilitation", a scheme to re-house elderly Guatemalan Indians in rural Chimaltenango and Solola, one of the worst-hit provinces.
A collaboration between Help the Aged, who have financed the project, and America's Catholic Relief Services, who are administering it, it is providing some 200 new homes, and new livelihoods, for elderly people whose future was once looking bleak indeed.
The type of accommodation uncier construction is, as far as possible, earthquake-proof, so in the event of another tremor damage and danger to life should be greatly reduced. The houses are being built according to time-honoured native design specifications, and the future occupants have a say — and frequently a hand — in their construction.
The final phase of the programme, the social and economic rehabilitation of the elderly, is being planned and will be co-ordinated by local Indian 'social workers who, with their knowledge of local dialects and life-styles, will be ideally suited to holding courses in family life, health, hygiene, gardening, and small industries.
So, through grants from Help the Aged and through the administrative skills of Catholic Relief Services, the local population of Chimaltenango and Solola are helping themselves.
Obviously, they will have comfortable housing, but even more important — they will have regained their selfrespect and dignity with their social and economic independence.
The earthquake is now history, and Guatemala, like countless disaster-hit areas, is no longer in the world's eye. But its aftermath entails years of dedicated work by its own people with the support and commitment of organisations like Catholic Relief Services and Help the Aged.