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Ladysmith and Chemainus Rotarians support access to education and nutrition in Guatemala

Four Rotary Club members are in Guatemala this month after fundraising to support projects
Volunteers from the Ladysmith and Chemainus Rotary Clubs are in Guatemala working on various projects this month. (Photo courtesy of Gerry Beltgens)

By Gerry Beltgens

Rotary Club of Ladysmith

The theme of our Nov. 27 fashion show was access to education and nutrition in Guatemala. It was held at the Eagles Hall and was an amazing success due to the support of people from Ladysmith, Chemainus and Nanaimo. We raised a total of nearly $9,000 from donations, sales of Guatemalan traditional fashions and donations for refurbished laptops for underserved schools and children in Guatemala.

On Jan. 6 three of us arrived in Guatemala to do this work (Jacqueline and David Sheppard and myself). We spent the first week in a Spanish language school in Antigua. All of the airfares, hotels, taxis and other costs were covered by us, the volunteers. All the money that we have raised goes to costs directly related to education and nutrition.

On Jan. 14 we arrived in San Lucas Toliman, where we met with the amazing leaders of the local Women’s Directiva, funded and supported by the Rotary Club of Ladysmith. They now have their new concrete block building finished Guatemala style with exposed concrete block, new metal windows and doors. While there, we supported the women to hire an electrician and wire the building for the community kitchen and the meeting/training room that will house the digital library and laptops for the much-needed community school. Presently there is a generation of children and teenagers who have lost two years of school. Education is critical in a region where the average year of completion is only sixth grade.

During this time we also met with community leaders in San Antonio Palopo and discovered that their stocks of nutritional supplements were nearly empty. We used donated money from several sources to restock the storeroom with 2,200 pounds of nutritional supplements designed to enhance current diets of tortillas and beans. These supplements are needed even more now that North American chips, pop and candy are more readily available than traditional fresh food.

We had planned a presentation of a sophisticated, but simple to use digital library that contained the entire Guatemalan curriculum, along with an entire library of educational books, videos and learning games (all in Spanish and Mayan languages) for Jan. 25th. We were forced to cancel due to a nationwide strike by the transportation sector (that is another story). We rescheduled for Jan. 31 and had an excellent turnout of Mayan community leaders and teachers who had heard about the system. The presentation was led by Romeo Rodriguez, the Director of Mundo Posible, the non-profit maker of the open-source RACHEL system. The response was extremely positive and almost all want to proceed.

The Rotary project team will donate the equipment, laptops and training for the smaller community organizations that do not have funding. Working with local community leaders and teachers, we have been able to build a strong and committed team on the ground. It is extremely difficult to appreciate the levels of poverty in these small communities until you have walked the back alleys in these towns.

At present we are reviewing five possible locations for the digital library and have been able to purchase 32 laptops with the money raised. We received a substantial discount from due to the volume purchased and we are using Rotary connections to be able to transport the laptops to Guatemala for a very low cost. Teacher training begins on Feb. 14.

Tom Andrews, a retired realtor and member of the Rotary Club of Chemainus arrived on Jan. 21. He has worked solidly with a local contractor for two weeks repairing and adding onto the shacks high on the cliffs behind the town. This is critical work, many children sleep on wet dirt floors and their mothers cook over an open fire in the shack. The Chemainus Club donated money for a family of five living in an eight by 12 shack on the side of a cliff. The team was able to cement the floor, add a small kitchen, a wood-fired cookstove and the materials for wooden beds for the family. The beds and table were built by David Sheppard, also of the Chemainus Rotary Club.

We are in Guatemala until Feb. 21 and hope to have three–four small schools on the way to begin teaching students early this spring. We will be back for at least two months to continue the work in early 2023.

Volunteers from the Ladysmith and Chemainus Rotary Clubs are in Guatemala working on various projects this month. (Photo courtesy of Gerry Beltgens)