Local family provides supplies to mothers and babies in Guatemala.
Imagine embarking on a trip across the globe, but instead of bringing a suitcase with clever outfits, iPhone chargers and tasty snacks, your travel bag is stuffed with reusable cloth tote bags, bottles of ibuprofen and bars of body soap. For the last 20 years, that has been the reality for Christine Valerius and her children, Maddy and Cristian Fisk.
It all began when Valerius owned a local market and gourmet coffee shop in Mound. Countless vendors provided connection and business to Valerius, although the friendships with coffee farmers in Guatemala were one-of-a-kind. Drawn to the country and its people, Valerius started on the journey in 2001 of adopting children from Guatemala.
In November 2001, Valerius took her first trip to Guatemala to meet Maddy and Cristian, who were, at the time, 1 month and 5 years old, respectively. Throughout the next few months, Valerius faced many road bumps in the adoption process, but she found moments of appreciation for the country. “I fell in love with Guatemala when I visited my children,” she says. “Even though these people have nothing, they’re so happy. They’re happy to see us, to just be. It’s such an uplifting feeling.” While Valerius brought her two children back to the United States in July 2002, their connection to Guatemala wasn’t ending—it was only just beginning.
When Valerius was in Guatemala waiting for the adoptions to go through, she spent time serving at a small medical clinic in the rural village of San Rafael El Arado. The clinic, Hands of Hope Medical Mission, was established by Gregory and Anita Giagnocavo in 1998 (running it out of school bus for a time), and the organization now serves 10,000 Indigenous Guatemalan people, who would otherwise be without medical and dental care.
Encouraging locals to visit the clinic was (and can still be) problematic. The roads to the facility are difficult to travel, and, especially in the beginning, locals had negative connotations about medical personnel. Going to the doctor, in their minds, led to negative outcomes, but those impressions are evolving into more positive notions.
Getting patients to the clinic was the first step, and inspiration struck when Valerius noticed a few local children playing. “You see a lot of kids, but one day I noticed three of them playing in the dirt on the side of the road and realized none of them had shoes,” she says. Over the course of several months, Valerius collected 5,000 pairs shoes through local donations and had them sent to Guatemala. She then helped fit shoes onto the feet of children. For children who had infections on their feet, their shoes were marked with their names, so they could retrieve them when they came to the clinic for treatment.
Over the past four years, the Valerius and Fisk family has raised funds and put together Mother’s Bags, which are reusable cloth tote bags filled with essential items for mothers-to-be and their newborn babies. Soap, sanitary napkins, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a washcloth, baby wipes and ibuprofen are only a handful of the items patients will likely find in a Mother’s Bag. When expectant mothers first come to the clinic for an exam, they are given prenatal vitamins. Those who continue to seek regular medical care throughout their pregnancy are then gifted a Mother’s Bag after the baby is born.
The Valerius and Fisk family now takes at least one annual trip to Guatemala to serve at the medical clinic, walk through the villages and visit with people. “Maddy is fluent in Spanish, so she really connects with them,” Valerius says. Maddy and Valerius constructed and donated 150 Mother’s Bags last year and are hoping to surpass that number for their trip this month. (Cristian is unable to make this trip due to awaiting the arrival of his first child.)
Maddy graduated from Mound Westonka High School in 2020 and is enrolled in classes at Grand Canyon State University in Phoenix, studying marketing and advertising. She hopes to leverage her education and give back to those in Guatemala. “I realize how blessed I am, so I just want to continue giving back,” she says. “I love the people of Guatemala.” Maddy’s even considered starting her own business in Guatemala to help locals build professional skills and secure steady, meaningful jobs.
To make a donation or receive additional information, email Valerius at email@example.com, or call her at 612.272.1772.
Discover more by following Valerius on Instagram at @cmvalerius.