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Making a difference in Honduras

2014-01-27 03.06.44-1Two Comox Rotarians headed off to Honduras. Their primary focus was to finalize their first international water project, and investigate possible new endeavors. They heard from some very talented entrepreneurial women, and learned about the progress of the Market Kids Program. The Comox Rotary club has been supporting this program for last three years,

with their financial support totaling $30,000, along with The Mark Isfeld Interact club, a group of high school students, who last year raised $6,000 for the Market Kids Program.  What they learned was remarkable …

Following is a heartfelt account about making a difference in other people’s lives as told by James Eby, a Member of the Comox Valley Rotary Club …

Stan Gaskarth (his fourth trip), a fellow Rotarian from the Comox Club and a cab driver named Fred picked me up. We headed straight for the local mall to get some Honduran currency, and then to the Hotel MacArthur, located in downtown Tegucigalpa.

On the drive, Stan was telling me about the previous night, where he attended a rotary meeting and had the fortunate opportunity to meet the Vice President of Honduras, also a fellow Rotarian.

We had about an hour to settle into the hotel before we headed off to the first of our meetings at the offices of Alternativas Y Oportunidades.

There we heard from some very talented entrepreneurial women, and learned about the progress of the Market Kids Program.  The Comox Rotary club has been supporting this program for last three years, with their financial support totaling $30,000.  The Mark Isfeld Interact club, a group of high school students, last year raised $6,000 for the Market Kids Program.

The focus of this program is two-fold.  First, it provides business skills to single women/mothers through in-class lessons that emphasize purchasing, customer service, saving and micro-loans.  Where many would have had to borrow money at 20% interest per month (240% annually), but with micro-banking assistance from Uniendo America (a Rotary micro-banking facility), they can now be provided loans at a low 3% monthly (36% annually) interest rate.  This in turn has allowed the families to save money (required 8% through the program), purchase inventory and let their businesses grow.

Second, these mothers must agree to send their children to school instead of having them work at the market. The public school system in Honduras is free, although the kids must go to school with supplies and uniforms, and must have a school to go to.  An astoundingly low number of children can afford this, so they are unable to go to school. The Market Kids program provides these school supplies to primary, secondary, vocational and university students.

Unfortunately, funding for this program has been cut in half, and we are now relying on individual sponsors to help.  This is an eligible Canadian Donation, so supporters will receive a tax receipt. If interested, go to www.canadahelps.org.

After our very informative meeting, Stan and I headed back to the hotel for an hour before we were off again.  This time we met for dinner at Augusto Mendoza’s house, a Honduran Rotarian from the San Miguel de Heredia Rotary Club, with fellow Rotarians from both Victoria and Castlegar. During our dinner it was very interesting to learn how a previous project, by the Comox Rotary Club, was so well received, raising $67,000 to be put towards supplies to make school desks, as well as hiring many local trades people to have them built.

Day two was just as busy. We journeyed into the mountains outside the city to Don Kaminsky’s home.  Don is an American doctor who has made Honduras his home for the past 30 years after marrying his Honduran wife.  This fellow Rotarian was instrumental in helping us with translation and ideas during our time there.  The staff from Alternativas Y Oportunidades, and 9 Rotarians from 5 different clubs spent the next four hours brainstorming and discussing the Market Kids program and ways to help fund it.

On day three we headed out to Comayagua, an hour and half drive north of Tegucigalpa, where we attended a Rotary meeting at Fernando’s house, where the next Rotary President of Comayagua was elected.

Afterwards we were back to the city for a quick dinner before rushing off to Marte TV, where we were invited to speak live on air about Comox and Comayagua Rotary Clubs completed water project in Colonia La Pinto, Honduras.

Day four was a busy day investigating possible future water projects, and viewing our recent successful project.

The first project was at Colonia Canada. This is a village that was created by the Red Cross 15 years ago, after a natural disaster. They are suffering from a lack of potable water and a severe septic system failure. The water they use for bathing and cleaning is from agriculture runoff.

The second project was far up in the hills, building houses.  Unfortunately this project does not meet all of Rotary’s sustainability criteria.

Finally we headed to Colonia La Pinto, the Comox and Comayagua Rotary club’s first completed International Water project.

2014-01-27 03.31.22-1Water is pumped out from a 200‘ well up to a water reservoir. Water pressure is created from the reservoir being higher up, and is delivered into houses, the school as well as the main station. The school now has a working bathroom and septic system, along with 30 plus houses, and one public toilet, thanks to our Rotary efforts. Before this project was completed this village had no potable water, Stan previously witnessed children collecting water from mud puddles and sewage-contaminated ditches.

When we arrived at the site there were hundreds of locals gathered to thank us for our help with the project.  It was quite an amazing experience and feeling to see the gratitude shown to us by the people of Colonia La Pinto, and for such a basic necessity that so many of us take for granted.  There was a ceremony and celebration, following which we walked up the hillside to see the water storage tank, as well as the toilets that were installed.

Due to the increase in the Canadian dollar in relation to the Honduran lempira, there was additional revenue for this project.  With the additional revenue the Comayagua Rotary Club purchased school supplies for the children there, which we happily handed out to the frenzy of excited kids.

We headed next to Leslie’s house, the president of the Comayagua Rotary Club’s, and we spent three hours talking about past and possible future projects with Canadian Rotarians Bill, Stan, Christine, myself and other members from the Comayagua Rotary Club. We talked about a possible reforestation project. Wood is becoming scarce, and locals have not engaged in replanting, at least not enough to be sustainable.

Most of our time was spent on our Five Community project.  Bringing potable water to five villages, determining the most effective way to bring water to those that need it, and how we can most effectively get the money to fund it.  I was extremely impressed with Stan and Bill’s knowledge and foresight, but there are still many unanswered questions that need to be investigated.

Day five started in the morning as members of the local Rotary Club, with some of the villagers who would benefit from the water project, guided us on a two hour hike up into the mountain nearby where the locals have built a dam. We must have crossed the river half a dozen times until we reached our destination, where our potential water project would start.  It was amazing how they were able to pack in all the raw materials such a distance over rugged terrain to build the dam.  It is important to note that as soon as potable water is available at these sites the population will likely double; therefore we will definitely take this into account as we plan, this could positively affect the lives as many as 4000 people.

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After a lunch in Comayagua we headed to meet the people of one of the communities that would benefit from this project.  A couple of hundred people came to listen to speeches and they were notably excited at the prospect of potable water.  One of the organizers thanked us and said they have waited a long time for this possibility.

Late that afternoon we started our long drive back to Tegucigalpa to attend another Rotary meeting at the San Miguel de Heredia Rotary Club, a great group of people, who were incredibly hospitable.

On our last day in Honduras we departed the hotel bright and early to attend the registration of the children of Market Kids program at the school. After several hours of photos and watching a skit the kids put on for us, we were off to the airport to catch our flight back home.

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The flight back was filled with thoughts of all that we’ve done to help, and all that we still need to do. There is so much need it’s overwhelming to know where to start, but the answer is one village at a time.  It was wonderful to see how our international fundraising was being utilized.  One of the ways we have been able to generate income for these projects is through the hard work of Rotarians. From Comox Rotary fundraisers, we were able to generate $7,500 in 2012. With a contribution of $5,000 from the Victoria Harbourside Rotary Club, we then applied for a district grant.  The district doubled the money for a total of $25,000. With this we applied to Rotary International who contributed one and a half times our contributions increasing the total to $37,500. Finally the Comayagua (Honduras) Rotary club invested $5,000 into the project. Total money raised for this project was $42,500. This project was accomplished after determining the need, raising the money, writing complicated grants, the Comayagua clubs implementation, and the final assessment from the Comox Rotary club.

Look what we can all accomplish after enjoying delicious candied salmon, drinking Whisky at our Whisky Fest, sponsoring the Ducky 500, Comox Rotary’s yearly auction, effort from Rotarians, and support from our community.

For more information on the Comox Rotary contact Norma Pelletier, membership director: mango8@telus.net
Sincerely, James Eby – Public Image Director, Comox Rotary Club

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