By Avi Lank
On January 21st members of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee sat down to their weekly lunch and learned about the upcoming Winter Olympics. Mike Plant shared his experiences as a world-class speed skater and Olympic official. At the same time, about 2,000 miles away, seven fellow club members were having decidedly different experiences in Guatemala. Some were visiting the hospital in Joyabaj, a city of about 20,000, mostly Quiche Mayas, while others were tramping through the woods in the nearby valley of the Motagua River. The Rotarians were in Central America to look in on several projects funded by Rotary or with other connections to Wisconsin.
In Joyabaj, high in the Sierra de Chuacús mountains, the Milwaukee Rotarians were meeting with hospital administrators and members of the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club from Guatemala City. They discussed implementation of a public health program to take advantage of a new water purification project. The day before, the Milwaukeeans had inspected a prototype of that project, which included $41,000 in Rotary funding, and found it to be working well. For that reason, it will be scaled up to provide potable water to the entire community. At the Motagua, the other members of the group were investigating a possible water source for the 550 families living in the nearby village of Boqueron, a project that involves Wisconsin members of Engineers Without Borders.
The Milwaukee delegation – Rotarians Dan Fetterley, Jim Ford, John Hein, Avi Lank, Leni Siker, Jerry Stepaniak, and their intrepid leader, Mike Paddock, as well as Jim’s wife, Judy – spent 9 days and 8 nights in Guatemala, visiting water treatment plants, bridges, schools, a medical mission and a micro-hydroelectric project. They also built considerable fellowship during hours in a van bumping over pothole-filled dirt roads, often with grades and hairpins that would make an Olympic skier blanch.
The day after visiting the hospital and Motagua, the Rotarians traveled north to the city of Nebaj. It served as a base for a visit to Visiban, a 52-family village at about 9,100 feet where residents are building a water system. Support includes $15,000 from various Rotary sources, as well as help from the Engineers Without Borders chapter at UW-Milwaukee. Village men were busy digging trenches for the distributions system when the Milwaukee Rotarians arrived, but stopped to meet with the group and say how proud they were of the project.
Other highlights included visits to a Rotary-funded medical clinic in Oliveros, and a bridge in Nueva Providencia designed and built by Marquette University students.
Throughout their trip, the Rotarians noticed simple schools in many communities. Education is required through the sixth grade in Guatemala, with the central government providing teachers where localities build schools. In the Joyabaj suburb of Chitom, local officials asked the Rotarians for a $15,000 donation to help build an elementary school for which the 72 families involved have already begun to raise funds. Members of the delegation believe such a donation would be money well spent. For more information about the school, please contact Avi Lank at firstname.lastname@example.org.