Rotary Travelers Enhance Partnerships in Guatemala

By Avi Lank


One week before Milwaukee Rotarians listened to Mayor Barrett outline his future plans at their March 10 meeting, a delegation from the club was in the Guatemala highlands hobnobbing with Mayor Florencio Carrascoza about the future of his municipality, Joyabaj. RCM, in partnership with the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club in Guatemala City and Engineers without Borders (EWB), has developed a long-term relationship with Carrascoza. In the past year, a $40,000 global grant has helped to build a water filtration system for the city, which the Rotarians had come from Milwaukee to inspect. But they were also there to help with construction of an elementary school in Chitom, a small community half way up a mountain about 20 minutes from Joyabaj via pickup truck, also under Carrascoza’s jurisdiction.


During a visit from Milwaukee Rotarians last year, Carrascoza suggested building the school, which will serve a community of mostly Quiche Indians though the sixth grade. The Milwaukee club members responded by raising $15,000 for the project, and the EWB student chapter at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) added its talents. The results were plain to see, especially to Rotarians Avi Lank and Jerry Stepaniak, who had been in the 2014 trip, but also to the other members in the delegation -- Eric and Mary Isbister, Joan Kessler, Julilly Kohler, Kris Martinsek, Mary McCormick and Doug Stahl. Also in the Rotary delegation were Jessica Boling of Rotaract and Kris’ friend Roger Kay.


Stahl, an MSOE professor, led the group. He also coordinated work at Chitom by the EWB-MSOE student chapter, and 7 students from the school were there working there when the Rotarians arrived. The Milwaukeeans were greeted by warm hugs from the approximately 50 students who attend an existing windowless, tin-roofed school on the site, along with a luncheon prepared by their mothers. Then it was to work, wielding drill, pick axe, wheelbarrow and shovel and cutting wire to make rebar cages to reinforce concrete for the school, restroom building and septic system.


The Milwaukee and Vista Hermosa clubs, along with contributions from the Rotary Clubs of Wauwatosa, West Allis and Milwaukee North Shore are working on another Global Grant which will improve economic conditions for farmers in the small communities of Patio Bol and Saltire near Joyabaj. This project will mobilize the EWB-MSOE and Marquette chapters to construct two foot bridges over the Rio Arco to provide better access to markets in the city of Joyabaj. Also included in the grant proposal is training in agricultural practices. Stahl and Rotarians from the Milwaukee and Vista Hermosa met with community leaders near the site of the Salitre bridge to finalize details of the agreement.


While the trip was centered around Rotary’s partnerships Joyabaj, members of the delegation were also able to develop their fellowship during long rides over often steep, unpaved, dirt, potholed mountain roads, as well as at a wonderful dinner the last night hosted by members of the Vista Hermosa club in the city of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site. By the end of their time together, they were already discussing a third trip to Guatemala in 2016.