“I had been working for many years as an independent lay missioner and I felt I needed the support of a community to respond to God’s call to be a witness of justice and peace.”
Sister Delia Marie (Dee) Smith was born in Bury, Lancashire, England, the oldest of three children. She graduated with a degree in Education from St. Mary’s College in London. Then Dee served 13 years as a lay missioner in Kenya with the Volunteer Missionary Movement where she taught at first and then coordinated an education program for semi-nomadic cattle herders in eastern Baringo.
She first heard of the Maryknoll Sisters in 1980 when she read of the death of the four churchwomen in El Salvador. Eventually she connected with several Maryknoll Sisters living in Kenya and her interest in joining them was sparked. She said, “I had been working for many years as an independent lay missioner and I felt I needed the support of a community to respond to God’s call to be a witness of justice and peace.”
Sister Dee entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in 1990 and during her orientation program, her ministry was counseling people with AIDS in the African American community of Newburgh, N.Y. In 1993 Sister Dee was assigned to Guatemala and continued her ministry with people with AIDS through education programs and counseling. Eventually this led her, with another Maryknoll Sister and many Guatemalans and other collaborators, to found Proyecto Vida (Project Life).
Proyecto Vida has three elements: a youth group of HIV/AIDS educators; people infected with HIV; and a technical and professional team. This is an integrated project of prevention attending to the affected and the involvement of people with HIV as part of the educational process giving talks and testimony. With much collaboration, a dream became a reality in 2005 when Santa Maria, a Proyecto Vida hospice for terminally ill people suffering with HIV/AIDS, was completed.
As lives were threatened with Hurricane Stan in that same year, the hospice, with only very minor damage, reached out to the broader community with its staff who helped in the various shelters, communicated information, and received calls on the local radio station and shared what they could of their food supply for the hospice. Proyecto Vida is an integral part of the community.
As director of Proyecto Vida, Sister Dee runs training workshops and coordinates the sub-commission on HIV of the Bishop’s Conference of Guatemala, motivating prevention and attention to HIV. Sister Dee also co-authored a book, Una Respuesta Cristiana ante el VIH EN en Guatemala.