SALESIAN RECEIVES NATIONAL RECOGNITION
by Julian Fox
San Pedro Carcha' (Guatemala) Nov 24: Australian Salesian Fr. Tony DeGroot, a member of the SDB missionary community in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, has received national recognition for his work with rural education for the indigenous population of Guatemala.
His award, a presidential education award and given for the first time in Guatemala to a foreigner and a priest , recognizes the significant contribution that Fr. Tony has made to education of the poor by the poor.
Father Tony's work began a little over two decades ago when he was appointed to the Parish of Raxruha, Alta Verapaz, as a newly ordained priest - he celebrates his silver jubilee of ordination this year. He quickly saw the need for education in an area that was beset by civil war and abandoned by the Government.
Young children were being dragooned into either official military or guerilla groups. At great personal risk Father Tony stayed in the area and formed young catechists, one of whom was murdered by guerillas (martyred, in fact) while attending to his tasks. In subsequent years of peace, this small work has developed into the provision of teachers all trained in the Preventive System as well as completing a three year teacher training course.
The modest beginning now services six hundred villages with teachers, both educators in the faith and general teachers for an area that is poorly served still by Government. The original work at Raxruha still boasts three hundred students. Meanwhile the focus of Father Tony's efforts has moved to San Pedro Carcha', some hours away by four wheel drive. There he has five hundred candidates in training as teachers. Additionally, there is a significant group of indigenous young men who have 'stayed with Fr. Tony', reminiscent of the beginnings of the Salesian Society in the time of Don Bosco.
They are presently a diocesan organization known as the Brothers of the Good Shepherd. Several are studying philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination.
Others now manage the Don Bosco Centre at Raxruha. A second Australian, Fr. Patrick Fox, has now joined the Alta Verapaz mission as parish priest of Campur and general coordinator of youth activities within the mission.