By Heidi Zemach for SCN
Those who attend Swinefest at Chinook’s Waterfront Restaurant Oct 5, will not only enjoy a tasty meal made from two whole roasted pigs with all the fixings, and live music from Blackwater Railroad Company, they also will be helping some of the poorest rural villagers in the South Pacific Island of Fiji.
Cathy Gonzalez, a waitress at Chinooks, and co-owner of Log Cabin Dreaming Bed and Breakfast in Old Mill Subdivision, will be making the humanitarian mission trip to Fiji in mid- October. Her employer is helping her accomplish her goals.
Cathy and Ramon’s daughter Jasmine Van Driessche, and son-in-law Jared also will be traveling there from Los Angeles. Gonzalez needs to raise $6,500 to cover her flight, housing, meals, and other support while there. The Naquaga Giving Foundation (NGF), the not-for-profit charitable foundation she is volunteering for, will donate the remaining $4,500 toward her “2013 Immersion” experience.
NGF has provided health, infrastructure, and educational assistance to the communities of Fiji’s remote northern islands, and southern Africa since 2004. Its focus is on strengthening villages, and providing the locals with resources they need to improve their own lives in a manner consistent with their own values and ideals. It has no religious affiliation.
Gonzalez, a former health and fitness educator, who owned Total Health, now Apex gym, will make herself useful wherever NGF needs her most. Her preferences are to volunteer on their 200-acre experimental farm, work at the medical center, teach in a special-needs school. She’ll also be taking a week-long boat expedition to some of the most remote islands in the world, bringing donated multivitamins, pre-natal vitamins, tooth brushes, reading glasses, and medical supplies. While on the expedition, volunteers interview elderly villagers, and create oral history reports from them thus helping to preserve Fijian traditions.
Most Americans view Fiji as a beautiful vacation destination, but below the surface there is also incredible need in Fiji, Gonzalez said. More than a third of the islanders live in poverty, often lacking education, medical care, and other basic necessities. Along with a downturn in their only industry, tourism, in 2010 Fiji suffered a devastating hurricane that destroyed homes and crops.
Gonzalez, Ramon, Jasmine and Jared have volunteered abroad before. The whole family spent time this past spring at a different humanitarian mission in Uganda.When they visited Uganda, Gonzalez spent a good deal of time at the children’s village, holding and singing to 17 infants abandoned by their mothers for economic reasons, death or disease. The children and staff called her “Mukaaka” or “grandmother,” as she is older than many of their college-age volunteers. Her focus was on trying to encourage the women to use cloth diapers on the babies, and to potty train their children. Dozens of these diapers were delivered to Uganda and are now being used in the orphanage there.
It’s a difficult thing to educate rural women, brought up for generations without diapers, to understand how and why using them would improve their lives, and help prevent the spread of disease, she said. But disposable diapers are beyond the means of remote villagers, and are only available in the distant cities. Using cloth diapers, and potty training is more hygienic, helps keep children’s clothing and homes cleaner, and can be hand-washed and reused for years.
“This time I want to work with children and with the women who are single or separated from their husbands, and to teach them skills to be able to take care of themselves and get ahead,” Gonzalez said.
The Gonzalez family has always given back to the community through scholarships at her fitness center or Ramon’s acupuncture business, and through Jacara, their daughter’s therapeutic skin care products, a percentage of which goes to charitable organizations. But now, with Cathy’s seasonal waitressing work, she feels very fortunate to be able to carve out a few weeks to go abroad and donate her organizational skills and her physical presence to those in need.
She’s finding that humanitarian missions are emotionally rewarding but also can be challenging.
It’s very rewarding personally when babies and children seek you out to be held or hugged: It’s also difficult, because when you walk in their streets, squat over their toilets, shop in their markets, and become part of their culture, it’s much different than writing a check or sending a box,” Gonzalez said. “It’s much more challenging because you are part of it, and you have to have the strength to not let the poverty and abuse and corruption get to you…It makes you aware of why these people are not getting ahead…Those things are very frustrating, and to see children abandoned on a regular basis, it just tugs at your heart.”
Gonzalez hopes folks will purchase their Swinefest tickets well in advance of the October 5th event as she needs NGF to purchase her airline tickets and make arrangements before she leaves on October 12th. She also is seeking local donations of multi-vitamins, neo-natal vitamins and used eyeglasses; and donated items for the Silent Auction.
Purchase Swinefest tickets from Chinooks, or call Cathy at 224-5410 for tickets or to donate. You can also give an online tax-deductible direct contribution to NGF via www.fijicharity.org and designate it specifically to Cathy Gonzalez’ Fiji fundraising.