Church concert benefits children in rural Guatemala

Katherine Avila singing opera hits at the Curtain Up concert Friday night. Photo by Maria Grijalva.

A Lutheran church held a benefit concert for children in Guatemala Friday night in Pinecrest.

Christ the King Lutheran Church presented its fifth annual Curtain Up concert in support of Project Hope Ixchiguan, an organization that helps children in the rural Central American area to get an education.

The charity helps more than 250 children and their families each year, said Henry Fandrei, coordinator of the concert,.

Ixchiguan is in the mountains of western Guatemala where children are extremely poor and parents do not have money to pay for the cost of tuition and supplies, he said.

Fandrei said his sister Sarita Mannaberg, who passed away from cancer four years ago, started Project Hope in 2000 when she went on a missionary trip to Ixchiguan with some members of her church in Michigan. She saw there were no education centers for children.

Now, the project is a shared mission of Hope Lutheran Church in Michigan and the church in Miami.

Fandrei said it was an accomplishment for children in Ixchiguan to finish elementary school.

“There was no culture of kids going to school,” he said.

But because of the organization, many kids can continue to high school, according to Fandrei.

The concert featured Magic City Opera, a non-profit organization founded by Fandrei’s son, Graham Fandrei.

Graham Fandrei said his group performs opera under 90 minutes for the community.

“In the end this is truly all about getting these children the opportunity to go to school, learn and grow,” he said.

In the audience was Rudy Cox, one of the first kids from Ixchiguan that Project Hope helped.

Cox was raised by Mannaberg, and it was with him that she set to help other kids in Ixchiguan with the assistance of other missionary groups.

Cox said that since this concert started, it has helped a lot of kids in Ixchiguan to go to school, and most of them are thankful.

“I was reading some of the letters that they wrote,” Cox said. “They are just so thankful for what they have done for them, and some of them have dreams and aspire to do better and stay there, not to migrate over here.”

Cox now works as an event manager in West Palm Beach.

More than 40 people attended the concert. The entrance fee was $20 to $25. Fandrei said that every dollar received from the tickets and additional donations would go to Project Hope Ixchiguan.

Victoria Sfalanga, a member of the church, said it’s amazing how Magic City Opera performers come every year and donate their time for the kids in Guatemala.

“It’s amazing,” Sfalanga said. “Magic City Opera are professionals, and they are here to raise money for kids in Ixchiguan, Guatemala, that have to buy school supplies.”

Magic City Opera singers performed opera and Broadway hits.

The concert ended with Graham Fandrei singing “The Impossible Dream,” a song made famous by Andy Williams.

Before starting the song, Graham thanked the audience for making the children of Ixchiguan dream the impossible dream.

“It is through your generosity, to you giving hope to these children, that they are able to reach out and do something they never thought they can do, that they thought was impossible, that wasn’t (an) impossible dream,” he said.

Originally from Nicaragua, Maria Grijalva is a senior majoring in journalism at Florida International University. After she graduates, Grijalva wants to pursue her dream of reporting for fashion magazines.