The Chemainus Rotary team, from left, includes: Ken Stanton, Helen Fowler,Tom Andrews and Richard Calverley. Absent from the photo is Denise Stanton. Extra suitcases are filled with donations from the community. (Photo by Art Caryle)

Chemainus Rotarians make seventh straight trip to Guatemala for work projects

Building houses and beds and bringing donated items on the agenda

Chemainus Rotary Club members are continuing to help build a better life for folks in San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala.

The 2020 team departed Chemainus Friday for the two-week trip, arriving Saturday after the flight from Vancouver to Mexico City and on to Guatemala City followed by a three and a half hour van ride to the final destination.

“It takes 24 hours to get there,” said team leader Tom Andrews, who’s making the trip for the sixth time.

Other Chemainus representatives on the club’s seventh straight excursion to San Antonio Palopo are: Ken Stanton, Richard Calverley and Helen Fowler. Denise Stanton is joining the group for the second week.

The trips originated in 2014 and the second year is the only one Andrews missed.

“The club supports it,” said Andrews. “We bring it up every year and see if we can include it in our budget.”

Each traveler is responsible for their own flight, hotel and food. They also donate their labour for projects and Rotary covers costs for materials and additional labour that needs to be secured to complete work projects.

Andrews is becoming recognizable to so many after his numerous trips there.

“They’re happy to see us,” he noted.

When they bring out such items as donated soccer balls, it’s a big hit around town.

“Little kids come running up,” Andrews indicated. “You’re like the Pied Piper.”

Ken Stanton, who’s experienced in construction, previously went to San Antonio Palopo in 2015 and 2017.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I know what to expect when I go down there. Apparently, I’m the bed-builder, but I’ll be building some of the houses. I do what I’m told. The little kids help me. They just like to come after school and hold the screws and play with the drills.”

The first time Stanton went was more of an eye-opener for him.

“I noticed how grateful they were and how humbling it makes you feel when you go down there. We live in the unreal world.”

Wife Denise Stanton went once before and said she’s going along this time mainly as a tourist.

Calverley is on his second trip after going for the first time in 2019.

“It was quite different, much poorer than I thought,” he observed. “The housing is unbelievable, they’re so small and close together all the way up the hill. It kind of blew my mind.”

There are about 10,000 residents in San Antonio Palopo, located on beautiful Lake Atitlan formed by the surrounding volcanoes. Panajachel is the major market centre where supplies are bought and the team visits on weekends. Other Vancouver Island Rotary clubs have projects at San Lucas Toliman, a beautiful boat ride away from San Antonio Palopo.

Fowler is a first-timer and “I’m excited to be going,” she said. “Through the years, I’ve watched the blog and all the lovely photographs courtesy of the Carlyles. I’ll be the assistant, the support team.”

People can follow the developments at https://chemainusrotaryteam.wordpress.com.

“There’s lots of people that follow it every year,” said Daphne Carlyle. “People in the community comment on it and want to give money to us for that specific purpose.”

“We’re doing a couple of construction projects, one is for a family of 10,” explained Andrews. “What we’re doing there is an open-air kitchen area. It’s difficult terrain so we can’t really redo their whole house.

“The second project is helping out a single mother and her handicapped son, a 20-year-old.

“It’s the local women’s organization who sort of pick out the highest need project. We do what they want. We talked about it last year so we had an idea.”

The team will also be building beds, using wood recovered from the temporary school. Rotary had donated the wood in 2015 to build the temporary school that has now been replaced with a new school built by the government.

Rotary will also be purchasing more propane stoves that Andrews said “have health and economic benefits.”

Additional local labour is hired as needed and a boost to the local economy comes from purchasing construction materials in town.

“I generally take as many tools as I can and leave them behind down there,” added Ken Stanton.

The team will have the weekends off, depending on whether a house needs to be finished, to enjoy the surroundings. “It’s like a little oasis,” said Andrews.

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Tom Andrews has wads of quetzales ready for the Chemainus Rotary Club’s Guatemala trip. You need a lot since one Guatemalan Quetzal is equal to 17 cents Canadian. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Map shows community of San Antonio Palopo’s location along Lake Atitlan.

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