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August Miller, Deseret Morning News
Guatemala's Wendy Widmann de Berger, center, talks to quilters Annette Johnson, left, and Kathryn Graham, right, at the LDS Humanitarian Center.

Guatemala first lady Wendy Widmann de Berger's eyes lit up as she examined quilts housed at the LDS Humanitarian Center on Thursday.

As she toured the center, Berger, who also serves as head of Guatemala's office of social work, explained that one of her first projects had involved helping women develop their sewing skills into entrepreneurism.

"I had to go to night school to learn how to quilt," she said.

The tour was part of the first lady's visit to Utah, where today she'll be honored by the micro-loan development foundation Enterprise Mentors International for her efforts to improve the quality of life for women and children.

After the tour, she told members of the media that she saw examples in Utah that could be duplicated in her country. She also downplayed American concerns that international adoptions with Guatemala may be discontinued.

"Adoptions will continue," Berger said. "No child should be left without a family."

Adoption agencies and prospective adoptive parents are concerned because the Central American nation has set a deadline for itself to come into compliance with the Hague Convention on International Adoptions by Jan. 1. However, the nation's congress has yet to vote on a bill that would create and fund a government agency to oversee adoptions and other measures related to the treaty.

When the United States comes into compliance with the Hague Convention sometime next year, it won't be able to continue adoptions with Guatemala unless that nation is also in compliance. The uncertainty has led the State Department to post a caution against starting the adoption process in Guatemala.

But on Thursday, Berger said her government is taking steps to come into compliance with the treaty and expressed confidence that her congress would enact the legislation. In the end, she said, the law will mean more transparency so that mothers will know their children are being taken care of.

"As soon as we get the law, we'll be working on the transition," Berger said. "At the end we want the children's best interest."

Berger also used the visit to tout her "Creciendo Bien" (Growing Well) program during talks to students at Utah Valley State College and Brigham Young University. The program helps women in rural areas learn about nutrition and hygiene while empowering them to keep the program self-sustaining.

The program has so far reached over 170,000 women, she said.

"It's giving the women the opportunity," she said. "We're all working toward giving Guatemalans a better life. ... We are striving to to be productive, competitive. We can't be if we're fighting malnutrition."

Berger's husband's term ends in January, and she says she's confident the next first lady will continue efforts to improve lives in rural Guatemala. Still, she says, in order to curb out-migration, international "technical assistance" is needed to develop an open market and help women be able to support themselves.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com