By Eve Meinhardt ParaglideMarch 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A little boy was crying on the street in a small town in Guatemala. When asked why he was so sad, he held up the refrigerator magnets that he was selling for the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents. The boy said that he had not sold a magnet that day and so his family would be unable to eat that night.
One Army Family not only helped the boy eat that night, but has forever changed the lives of two other Guatemalan boys.
The Katter Family has faced some tough challenges in the last few years. Sgt. Kenneth Katter from the Warrior Transition Battalion joined the Army in 2005 after a break in service because he wanted to serve his country once again. When he joined, Katter brought with him seven years experience as a force recon Marine and nine years experience as a police officer. Even though he had a secure career as a police officer, his Family supported Katter's decision to re-enter the service.
When Katter returned in October 2007 from a deployment to Iraq with traumatic brain injury and other medical conditions caused by multiple attacks with improvised explosive devices, the Family looked for something positive to focus on. Katter's wife, Patti, found the solution - sponsoring a young boy in Guatemala named Marcos.
"It was a really hard on us," said Patti. "Sponsoring Marcos was a good thing for the Family to focus on other than the hard times."
Sponsoring Marcos started by sending $120 for a year's worth of school supplies. A few weeks later the Family sponsored Oscar. It didn't take long before the Katters started looking to do more for these children than just providing school supplies.
The Katters send care packages to the boys and their families containing clothes, food, candy and other essentials. They have put a concrete floor in Marcos' home to replace the dirt one and given both Families chickens, water filters and energy efficient wood burning stoves.
In the region of Guatemala where the children the Katters sponsor live, many of the families live off of a shared tortilla a day augmented by whatever vegetation they can find, including leaves. Savanna Katter, 8, was upset to learn that the families had so little to eat.
"I ate a leaf once before and it was disgusting," said Savanna. "I'm glad that we are able to help them. It is good for them to know that people care and pray for them."
The Family sponsored the children through Mayan Families, a non-profit organization that helps the indigenous Maya people of Guatemala. According the organization's Web site, they provide nutrition, education, health and construction services to people in need in the Lake Atitlan region.
Even though the organization is a recognized non-profit, the Katters wanted to see for themselves that the boys they were sponsoring were being taken care of. In May 2008, Patti and her son, Hunter, who was 11 at the time, went to Guatemala to meet Marcos and Oscar.
"I felt in my heart that I had to go there and see it for myself. I prayed about it and knew it was the right decision," said Patti.
Hunter said he was glad he got to meet Marcos and Oscar. Even though they didn't speak the same language, the boys were able to bond by playing soccer and enjoying each other's company.
Katter knew that the trip was important for his Family.
"I think it is great that Patti and Hunter got a chance to go down there and see how they live," said Katter. "I've been to other third world countries and it is a hard life day to day. It is great to make a difference."
With three children of their own and living on a sergeant's salary, the Katters have made sacrifices to help make life better for these families in Guatemala. They skip a few meals out, held garage sales and cancelled their cable and home phone service.
"The more we look around, the less we seem to need," said Katter. "The cost of sponsoring these kids is so reasonable it's not even a burden for us financially."
Patti agrees with her husband.
"While everyone is complaining about our economy, I don't think most people here in the United States really understand the definition of poor. Many of the homes (in Guatemala) are shacks and most of the homes in the area we visited had dirt floors," said Patti. "We have been very careful with our money so we are able to help families such as Marcos' and Oscar's."
The entire Family plans to return to Guatemala again this summer with their church.
"We hope to help provide these families everything they need to survive," said Katter. "Once they're good, hopefully they can help their neighbor and the goodness will grow."
To follow the Katter's story or learn more about assisting children in Guatemala, visit Patti's journal of her experiences at www.operationobligation.blogspot.com.