The presence of Chemainus Rotary Club members in Guatemala is a tremendous gift for the people of San Antonio Palopo, Guatemala.
Rotarians are currently in the Central American community again on a humanitarian trip to offer a variety of aid to residents there. The trips started back in 2014 and, other than an interruption in 2021 due to COVID, have continued ever since.
Even when Rotarians couldn’t travel to the region, they still managed to provide some valuable assistance from afar.
A chicken project was undertaken when Rotarians weren’t there, with funds sent to each participating family for an agricultural course, 10 chicks, chicken feed for the first six weeks, regular visits and a community-built chicken cage. That not only gave them much-needed protein, but business potential and employment for locals.
People in San Antonio Palopo live with very few amenities, but Rotary’s volunteer work and donated supplies gives them important necessities they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Tom Andrews has been on every trip from the beginning, other than in 2015 when a broken ankle kept him at home.
He left last Wednesday on his eighth excursion there, along 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 that place,” said Andrews in advance of 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 five weeks and Dares will be there for about 2 1/2 weeks.
Sheppard and Mealing-Sheppard have also made multiple visits to San Antonio Palopo and this will be the second trip for Dares, who has fond memories from his first time.
“It was fantastic going down there and you leave knowing you’ve done something good,” he said.
“It makes you appreciate what we have around here,” added Andrews.
“They’re very happy. The kids, you give them a soccer ball and they’re happy for the day.”
The Rotarians have set several goals to be accomplished on this trip.
“Dan and I are going to be building a house with a local contractor,” said Andrews. “It’s a basic 10×12 concrete structure, concrete blocks, framing with wood siding and a corrugated roof.
“It’s pretty basic, but it’s more than they have now. It’s for a family of four. They help with moving material to the site. It’ll be a flat site, but it’s hilly to get up there.”
The transport of the cement, sand and other elements is actually quite labour intensive based on the terrain.
The second aspect of the visit is to supply funds for a nutrition program. A supplement known as Incaparina, invented by a Guatemalan doctor, is purchased to mix with their meals.
lncaparina is a mixture of vegetable sources supplying an amino-acid balance comparable to contents of foods of animal origin.
“It’s a full nutrition package that helps with their development and growth,” Andrews pointed out.
The Rotarians are supplying funds to keep 50 kids stocked with Incaparina for an entire year.
School supplies are also being made available to 75-100 children, with the purchase of notepads, pencils and erasers – “all the kids need to take to attend school,” said Andrews.
In addition, numerous 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 the Rotarians took down two full suitcases.
As a Service Club initiative to help improve the lives of others, two Grade 7 students, along with their teacher, spearheaded the ‘Good for the Sole Project,’ collecting gently used shoes from students in the Primary and Junior divisions. The shoes were then presented to Tom Andrews to take to Guatemala.
“Shoes are expensive down there and they don’t last very long,” said Tom Andrews. “They appreciate it.”
The Rotarians used to stay in a hotel, but are doing an Airbnb house rental this time for their accommodation.
“We’ve got a place where we can cook our own meals,” Andrews noted. “It’s very central between the hotel we used to stay at and the hardware store.”
Unfortunately, inflation means those trips to the hardware store are a lot more costly for the required construction materials so their dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.
The Chemainus Rotary team has also helped with providing beds and stoves, computers and other projects over the years and intends to continue that relationship with the community.
The Ladysmith Rotary Club has been stationed across Lake Atitlan in recent years for its own projects at San Lucas Toliman.
Update from Tom Andrews Monday: “Today we visited the construction site for the new home, met the family and will be ordering the material tomorrow and arranging to have it moved manually a kilometre up to the top of the town from the building supply store.”