In turkey tamales and more, K'ekchi' Mennonite students enjoy MCC canned meat

Mennonite Central Committee
Friday, 11 July 2003

Canned turkey from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is making a difference in the lives of students and staff here at Bezaleel, the education center of the K'ekchi' Mennonite Church.

The school is home to 115 youth taking secondary education or vocational training courses. Most come from rural communities where such schooling is not available. Last summer, rising local food prices and budget pressures at Bezaleel forced cooks to cut out meat and fresh produce almost entirely from students' meals. The school nurse saw an upswing in cases of illness and exhaustion.

Eight hundred cartons, or 33,600 pounds (15,270 kilos), of turkey canned by MCC supporters in Maryland and Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley arrived in Guatemala in March. Now the students at Bezaleel have a reliable source of protein.

With the food budget money they're saving, Bezaleel staff members have begun raising their own poultry and rabbits. The canned turkey will be used during the noon meal during the next two years, helping to tide the school over until it can produce most of its own food.

The canned turkey is "supporting in a very tangible way the education of the K'ekchi' Mennonite youth in Alta Verapaz," said Rob Cahill, an MCC worker at the school. He worked with school officials to organize the meat shipment.

He noted that turkey is the one meat that is truly traditional among the K'ekchi' people. The K'ekchi' raised turkeys for centuries before the Spaniards introduced chickens, cows and pigs.

"Today, turkey is considered a real delicacy," he said.

Because Bezaleel is a residential school, students eat all their meals in the cafeteria, with 15 to 20 staff members joining them for lunch. The turkey will also help feed those attending other gatherings hosted by Bezaleel, such as meetings, Bible study sessions for pastors and various K'ekchi' Mennonite church functions.

The Bezaleel cooks have enjoyed experimenting with using the turkey in traditional recipes.

"It's delicious in tamales," said Carlos Mo, a second-year student from Monte Cristo.

A Guatemalan tamale -- "oben" in the K'ekchi' languages -- is meat wrapped in cornmeal and steamed in a banana leaf. "Tzu'u," a double tortilla with the turkey meat patted inside, is also popular.

Because Cahill and his wife, Tara, are from Greencastle, Pa., in the Cumberland Valley, MCC administrators arranged for the shipment to come specifically from that area.

"Many students have asked me to explain how the meat gets into the can," Cahill said. "They can hardly imagine the meat canning process and all that goes on."

A former meat canning volunteer himself, he can explain the process to the students based on his own experience.

Cumberland Valley volunteers -- working at a new MCC material resources center in Chambersburg, Pa. -- were among 32 communities to participate in this year's canning "season," which set a record for productivity. A four-man canning crew travels with MCC's unique portable canner to help volunteers preserve beef, pork, turkey and broth for shipment around the world.

For more information, or to contact Mennonite Central Committee, see their website at:

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