Maryknoll Brother John Nitsch eats a little honey every day.
“I think it’s one of the reasons I have good health,” he says. He gives credit for this healthy habit to his good friend Jorge Hormazabal, a social worker who started beekeeping nine years ago.
“Jorge had this idea of raising bees. I helped him get started,” Brother Nitsch says proudly. The missioner — who has served in Chile for nearly 50 years — explains that Jorge’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit led him to start the business to provide a better life for his wife, Maria Paz, and two sons.
“It is challenging to start a business in Chile, especially for people like me who come from a lower social stratum. You have fewer opportunities,” says Jorge, who grew up as the youngest of six children in a poor, blue-collar family in the peripheries of Curicó, Chile. Jorge and his family lived under the poverty line — even though his parents worked from dawn to dusk and Jorge worked odd jobs. In between, Jorge focused on sports and church. “It kept me off the streets,” he says.
Jorge was 13 when he met Brother “Juan” Nitsch during a youth program at Cristo Resucitado parish. “Everything changed from there,” says Jorge, recalling how the missioner’s constant mentorship and financial support allowed him to create a brighter future for himself.
Brother Nitsch helped Jorge with his studies, as he did for many other students. More importantly, he motivated young Jorge to pursue his dreams. “He was just a good young man who needed a little help and encouragement to make something of himself,” the missioner recalls.
“Brother was my main motivational support to continue my high school studies and to keep studying,” says Jorge, who also had his parents’ moral support. “I was the only one in my family who finished high school. I think only one or two of us went to university from my part of town.”
After graduating from college, Jorge became a social worker and spent 10 years helping young people deal with addictions. Although his job was rewarding, it was difficult to support his family and pay for his sons’ education on the low salary. When his job with the town’s public ministry ended during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jorge focused full-time on beekeeping.
“I wanted to achieve independence, live a better life, and be able to give job opportunities to others,” he says. With Brother Nitsch’s support and through hard work and perseverance, Jorge gradually built his beekeeping project — Apícola Thomas (named after his eldest son).
“I never realized how much work it takes,” Brother Nitsch says.
Jorge says that the first year, half his bee colonies died, due to harsh weather. The following year he was able to multiply them. By the third year, he was ready to bring his bees to help pollinate a field, borrowing Brother Juan’s car to transport them. “He has grown from having 30 beehives to over 300,” says Brother Nitsch.
Jorge now regularly produces honey and provides pollination services to nearby orchards. The successful project gives work to others, and Jorge lends his honey-extracting equipment to smaller beekeepers free of charge. “You simply help because someone helped you in life,” he says.
Even though Jorge jokes that he is one of Brother Nitsch’s longest projects, he is genuinely grateful for the support from Brother Juan and the mission society. He says he wanted to show Maryknoll that its support has yielded fruit. He also wanted to be an example for other young people from impoverished areas, he adds.
During the nationwide lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jorge would deliver meals his wife had made for the missioner. “It’s like having another family,” says Brother Nitsch.
Jorge calls Brother Nitsch a second father. “He helped me grow as a person,” he says. “He taught me … that if you have dreams, if you want to fly, then fly, try it.” He continues, “You must follow your dreams. … That is what gives you strength every day to overcome hardships.”
Featured Image: Jorge Hormazabal (left) started his beekeeping business in Chile, which now creates jobs in his community, thanks to the support of Maryknoll. (Courtesy Jorge Hormazabal/Chile)