Rotary service in Guatemala reaches milestone

The presence of members of the Rotary Club of Chemainus in Guatemala is a great gift to the people of San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala.

Rotarians are currently back in the Central American community on a humanitarian trip to provide a variety of relief to residents. The trips began in 2014 and, apart from a hiatus in 2021 due to COVID, have continued ever since.

Even when Rotarians could not travel to the area, they still managed to provide valuable assistance from afar.

A chicken project was undertaken when Rotarians were not around, with funds sent to each participating family for an agriculture course, 10 chicks, chicken feed for the first six weeks, regular visits and a community-built chicken coop. This not only gave them much-needed protein, but also business potential and jobs for locals.

The people of San Antonio Palopo live with very few amenities, but Rotary’s volunteer work and supply donations allow them to have important necessities they otherwise could not afford.

Tom Andrews has been on every trip since the start except in 2015 when a broken ankle kept him home.

He left last Wednesday for his eighth excursion there, with Danny Dares, David Sheppard and Jacqueline Mealing-Sheppard. They flew to Guatemala City and then took a van to San Antonio Palopo.

“I love this place,” Andrews said before the trip. “The people are great. It’s a fantastic location on Lake Atitlan, with quite a few Mayan communities around the lake.”

Andrews, Sheppard and Mealing-Sheppard are staying for five weeks and Dares will be there for around 2.5 weeks.

Sheppard and Mealing-Sheppard have also made several visits to San Antonio Palopo and this will be the second trip for Dares, who has fond memories of his first time.

“It was fantastic to go there and you come away knowing you did something good,” he said.

“It makes you appreciate what we have here,” Andrews added.

“They are very happy. Kids, you give them a soccer ball and they’re happy for the day.

Rotarians have set themselves several goals to achieve on this trip.

“Dan and I are going to build a house with a local contractor,” Andrews said. “It’s a basic 10×12 concrete structure, concrete blocks, a frame with wood cladding and a corrugated iron roof.

“It’s pretty basic, but it’s more than what they have now. It is for a family of four. They help move the material around the site. It will be a flat site, but it is hilly to get up there.

Transporting cement, sand and other items is actually quite laborious depending on the terrain.

The second aspect of the visit is to provide funds for a nutrition program. A supplement called Incaparina, invented by a Guatemalan doctor, is purchased to mix into their meals.

Incaparina is a blend of plant sources providing an amino acid balance comparable to animal foods.

“It’s a complete nutrition package that helps with their development and growth,” Andrews pointed out.

Rotarians provide funds to supply 50 children with Incaparina for an entire year.

School supplies are also being made available to 75 to 100 children, with the purchase of notepads, pencils and erasers – “everything children need to go to school”, Andrews said.

In addition, many pairs of shoes were collected as part of a school project last spring at Queen Margaret’s School in Duncan – where Andrews’ wife Heather teaches – and Rotarians picked up two full suitcases.

As part of a Service Club initiative to improve the lives of others, two Grade 7 students, along with their teacher, led the ‘Good for the Sole’ project, collecting gently used shoes from students in primary and junior divisions. The shoes were then presented to Tom Andrews to be taken to Guatemala.

“Shoes are expensive there and they don’t last very long,” said Tom Andrews. “They appreciate it.”

Rotarians used to stay in a hotel, but this time they are renting an Airbnb house for their accommodation.

“We have a place where we can cook our own meals,” Andrews noted. “It’s very central between the hotel we were staying in and the hardware store.”

Unfortunately, inflation means those trips to the hardware store are much more expensive for the necessary building materials, so their dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.

The Chemainus Rotary team has also helped provide beds and stoves, computers and other projects over the years and intends to continue this relationship with the community.

The Ladysmith Rotary Club has been stationed on Lake Atitlan in recent years for its own projects in San Lucas Toliman.

Update from Tom Andrews on Monday: “Today we visited the construction site of the new house, met the family and will be ordering the equipment tomorrow and arranging for it to be moved by hand one mile to the top of town from the building materials store.”

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The rotating mural serves as a backdrop, with Danny Dares, left, and Tom Andrews gathering shoes from donations from Queen Margaret School to pack in their suitcases ahead of their trip to Guatemala.  (Photo by Don Bodger)

The rotating mural serves as a backdrop, with Danny Dares, left, and Tom Andrews gathering shoes from donations from Queen Margaret School to pack in their suitcases ahead of their trip to Guatemala. (Photo by Don Bodger)

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