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Student starts non-profit to aid Guatemala

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Courtesy of Alex Tsway

When Courtney Slanaker embarked on a study abroad trip to Guatemala in the spring of 2012, she had no idea that a nonprofit organization would begin as the result of her trip.

Walk With is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization that works through “inspiration, development, and empowerment” to perform public service projects in underserved communities throughout the world. The communities that they work with provide project proposals for the Walk With team, and they work to help them achieve their goals in that project, said Slanaker, a public health senior and president of Walk With.

Currently, the nonprofit’s main focus is giving a small, severely impoverished town called Buena Vista, located in Guatemala, its own community center. At the center, the community will be able to come together and have resources like a clinic, a place for Bible study, classrooms for teaching children, a place of meeting for community development discussions and more, Slanaker said.
Buena Vista is a town that has about seven “pueblos” located within it. The conditions in these pueblos are described as “destitute” by Slanaker.

“These people are living on less than $6 a day, they don’t have running water, the kids are highly malnourished and their food and water is severely contaminated due to the lack of a proper sewage system,” Slanaker said.

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Walk With began when Slanaker was studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, which is the main point of tourism and attraction for Guatemala. About 30 kilometers’ driving distance, Buena Vista is considered “severely impoverished” due to its conditions, especially considering its proximity to such a “beautiful, thriving, city,” according to Slanaker.

After Slanaker traveled throughout Buena Vista with a travel nurse, she met a resident named Rufino who was suffering from a genetic skin disease called itchthyosis. He hadn’t received medical attention in about 20 years.

“He’s completely and utterly deformed. I was in shock,” Slanaker said. “He was living in dirt floors, pig feces everywhere, it was absolute squalor.”

Slanaker raised about $3,500 through an online campaign for Rufino to cover the costs of his medications and food, but there were still many deeply rooted problems that needed to be solved, Slanaker said. Rufino is one of 1,000 people suffering in these conditions, she added.

“We want to focus on the community and make projects that affect the entire community as best as they can,” Slanaker said. “The idea with Walk With is that we are not leading the people, we are
walking with them, and learning and trying to make change together.”

The Walk With organization hopes to raise $25,000 through a series of community efforts and outreach, in order to successfully construct a community center for the residents of Buena Vista, according to Oscar Caballero, a team member of Walk With.

The team has already raised money from a raffle fundraiser at Salpointe Catholic High School this month, to which the UA men’s basketball team donated a signed basketball to be raffled off. Walk
With raised roughly $400 from the event, according to Caballero.

The group also plans to hold a golf tournament at the Tucson Country Club this April, and it continues to sell “bracelets for change” for a donation in which all of the proceeds go directly to the Buena Vista community center fund, said Caballero.

“We are helping improve their community,” Caballero said. “We want to help them move forward and to better their community.”

The Walk With organization has already raised $7,000 toward its goal of $25,000 and plans on beginning construction of the center this October, according to Slanaker.

“This has changed my whole perspective on life and gave me a meaning,” Slanaker said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s walk with each other and try to make a change.’”


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