RCM Returns to Guatemala

By Avi Lank


On March 15, seven members of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee had their weekly luncheon in a wooden one-room schoolhouse in the Guatemalan Highlands. The menu of two hot tamales and a boiled egg was lavish by local standards and served by women of the village of Tziquintze to thank the Wisconsinites for help building a latrine and wash station for their school. The event was part of an eight-day trip to Guatemala during which the Rotarians -- Ran Hoth, Eric and Mary Isbister, Avi Lank, Mary McCormick, George Solveson and Jerry Stepaniak – inspected several projects the club had helped fund and prospected for more. Also in the group were Jessica Boling and Jennifer Hays of Rotaract -- which funded the wash station -- the Isbister’s son Duncan, Dr. Marissa Jablonski of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her student, Katheryn Cubberley. Jablonski led the group.


Among other sites visited were a newly completed elementary school at Chitom and a nearby suspension bridge at Salitre, both projects were joint ventures of Rotary and Engineers Without Borders. Florencio Carrascoza, mayor of the area, met with the group to express his thanks and discuss possible future projects.


The main focus of the trip, however, was the Nebaj area in the Ixil Triangle. For the last third of the 20th century, the area was ravaged by a bitter civil war, and many of its residents, including those in Tziquintze, are sustenance farmers, plowing with oxen and planting with sticks in villages accessible only by mountainous, rutted, dirt roads – many of which the Milwaukeeans traversed.


The group was careful to listen to the needs expressed by Guatemalans rather than make offers of help without consultation. To do so, it met with Nebaj’s mayor, Pedro Raymundo, or Pap Lu in his native Ixil language, and enlisted the help of ACCMARI, a grassroots organization of small villages which is prioritizing local needs. Water systems in the villages of Antigua Xonca and La Laguna are near the top of ACCMARI’s list, and the Milwaukeeans met with officials of both communities.


The Milwaukeeans discussed funding the projects through a Global Grant, which combines money from local clubs with district funds and dollars from Rotary International, the scheme used for the bridge at Salitre. The Guatemalan partner for that grant was the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club of Guatemala City and the Wisconsinites had lunch with Julio Grazioso of the club. He said that Vista Hermosa has reached its maximum allowable 10 global grants. For that reason, the Milwaukeeans also met with officials of Rotary clubs in Panajachel and Huehuetenango, looking for another Guatemalan partner. The meeting with David Ramos Mota, secretary of the Huehuetenango club, had an added benefit. Ramos Mota is a coffee grower and as the Milwaukee delegation was waiting in the airport to return home on March 20, one of his team arrived with a gift of 2 kilos of freshly-roasted coffee. The beans are excellent, a hopeful sign for future cooperation.