The Central Vancouver Island Rotarians will hold a sale of authentic hand-woven Guatemalan scarves and clothing to raise money for access to education in Guatemala’s Mayan villages this month. On Nov. 27 there will be Mayan music and Guatemalan cider in the Eagles Hall in Ladysmith, along with a Guatemalan fashion show from Ladysmith Secondary students.
One hundred per cent of funds raised will be used to support projects in Guatemala, according to Gerry Beltgens, a local Rotarian who will go to Guatemala to volunteer in the new year.
“This is a great opportunity to buy an authentic backstrap hand-woven scarf or clothing, made by the Guatemalan women in the communities that Rotary supports. Over 150 items will be on display for sale,” he said.
Beltgens said for the past two years, most of the children of Guatemalan Mayan families have missed school due to the pandemic and most Mayan homes do not have access to the internet, which is crucial for education in pandemic times. He added that war, ongoing malnutrition and the impact of the pandemic have devastated Guatemalan Indigenous communities.
A group of Rotarians on Vancouver Island are working on mitigating these impacts in the Lake Atitlan Region. In 2020–21 Rotary and Disaster Aid Canada (a Ladysmith Rotary project) raised and donated over $16,000 to provide food for Indigenous families locked down due to COVID-19 and another $4,000 for nutritional supplements for children suffering from malnutrition. The Rotary Club of Ladysmith has also financed the construction of a women’s centre in the town of San Lucas Tolima, as well as provided electricity and access to drinking water.
The Rotary club is partnering with a team of local women’s groups, teachers and Rotarians from Guatemala, Nanaimo, Ladysmith and the Cowichan Valley and are planning to create learning hubs in Guatemalan communities to facilitate access to educational tools, medical information and other essential knowledge bases, Beltgens said.
In areas where the internet is accessible, the team will set up solar and grid based systems that include a wifi hub and computers to access the Guatemalan school curriculum. Where internet is not available, they will set up a local wifi server and computers preloaded with a comprehensive library of teaching tools and a local database of the Guatemalan school curriculum.
“Using new and refurbished materials, we can set up a learning hub with six stations and educational software for a cost of between $2,000 and $3,000 per site,” Beltgens said. “Costs will fluctuate based on electrical, solar requirements and access to hardware. Larger and smaller sites can easily be scaled.”
Project coordinator Jacqueline Mealing is a Chemainus Rotarian who has worked on community development projects in Guatemala for over 27 years. Jacqueline, David Shepherd , Tom Andrews of Rotary Chemainus, Gerry Beltgens and Don Mercer of Rotary Ladysmith will be in Guatemala January and February 2022. They will work hand in hand with the Women’s Directiva in San Lucas Toliman, the Mayan Family Foundation and the Rotary Clubs of Vista Hermosa Satellite Uwara and Panajachel, Guatemala.
“I have been a rotarian for 15 years and I have really seen the power of what we can do through this organization,” Beltgens said. “It’s a lot easier to raise funds here than it is in Guatemala and I have some skills from my experience in life that hopefully, we can put the two together down there and make things happen.”
He said as a Rotarian, it is important to work with local group in other countries to ensure funds are used to help address the needs of locals in the regions where they work.
“So we find out from the Women’s Directiva what their actual needs are in the community,” he said. “So the women who have their hands on the pulse of the community can tell us what those particular needs are and then we do our best to address those.”
Anyone who would like to donate but cannot make it to the even can contact Beltgens at firstname.lastname@example.org.