Charity far from home
April 11, 2014
The Park City Rotary Club has found that it gets the most "bang for its buck" in poor Guatemalan villages, according to member Cathy King.
In February, the Rotary Club conducted its fifth annual service project in Central America.
"The first year we went to Mexico, second year Belize and then this was our third year in Guatemala," King, who has led the Guatemala trip efforts the past two years, told The Park Record.
The purpose of the trips is to provide access to clean water and to install latrines and stoves in homes that have neither.
"What we’re trying to do is make an impact and not just build something and leave or give them money and leave. We’re making sure there’s a long time span and they’re benefitting from it," King said.
The remote Guatemalan village Rotary serviced this year, in an area called Santa Apolonia, is made up of about 70 families that live in what King describes as "these little sort of adobe homes with no ventilation, no windows nothing, usually it’s just a door.
"They use a stove to cook on and for heating and all it is basically a pile of rocks… So they’re constantly breathing smoke," she said. "They have a lot of stillborn babies because of the smoke and the fact that they don’t really have clean water," she said.
"The thing we love about Guatemala is not only do they really need our help but working with BPD, there’s a lot we can do with our money."
BPD is Behrhorst Partners for Development – a Guatemalan organization that coordinates service projects with groups like Park City Rotary.
"We raise the money, and then they basically do all the legwork," King explained. "They find the villages, they also make the people who live in the villages contribute with some sweat equity. Once they’ve got to that point, then we come in. We pay for everything, so all the supplies are shipped and they’re there ready by the time our club gets there.
The project doesn’t end when the Rotarians head home. "When we leave, BPD works with the villagers in making sure that the project is finished correctly, and then they do follow-up to make sure they’re taking care of their water systems or [other new equipment]."
King says that Rotary hired a counselor to "talk to the women about better sanitation, boiling their water before they drink it, not leaving food out, just basic things that most people take for granted."
King said Rotarian Insa Riepen, who is the executive director at Recycle Utah, was especially concerned about the villagers water sources when she saw trash littered around it and she often attempted to convey the health effects of contamination to the villagers.
"We also have a counselor that we paid for who will be empowering the youth to want to try and better themselves instead of getting married at 16 and having babies and staying in their village trying to farm. You know, thinking about leaving the village and looking for work or trying to get an education – those types of things.
"There just has to be a future and we’re helping them plan that," she said.
It’s not just Rotarians that go on the annual Central American service trips – Park City High Schoolers participate too and its why the trip coincides with PCHS’ spring break.
The school’s Interact Club – the "youth version of the Rotary Club," as its president, Molly Leavens describes it — raises money for the trip and sends along participants. King says there are always more students that want to go than are able to.
This year, 13 PCHS students went on the service trip – the most yet.
"People always say ‘oh these kids don’t know how to work,’ but they’re awesome. You get them down there and it’s like they want to work," King said.
One of the benefits of bringing the high-schoolers on the trip is that they’re great at interacting with the children living in the villages.
"In the beginning you get there and of course we’re like these big white people, like these aliens, but they love our kids," said King.
The villagers do not speak Spanish, but rather different forms of Mayan languages. Dialogue between the Rotarians and the villagers needs to be translated from the native Mayan dialect into Spanish and then Spanish into English. So how do the PCHS teenagers communicate with the local kids?
"No barriers with kids," King said. "They somehow can communicate just by showing and, you know, pointing or whatever and they have no issues. The boys were playing football and the girls were doing these little hand-clappy game things and singing songs and they just, they bond.
"You know, the first day [the locals] were afraid of us, the second day they’re down on the main road waiting for our vans to come because they’re so excited to see us. It’s really neat."
Parkites are everywhere
"Being down there as much as we have, it’s really kind of cool because now Park City is known in Guatemala, we work a lot with the club there in Antigua, so they know us now and we’re building a little name for Park City down there" King said.
The Rotarians weren’t even the only Park City organization aboard their flight to South America – the Hope Alliance, the Park City nonprofit led by John Hanrahan, was going to Guatemala too.
"So there were like 23 people from Park City roaming the streets of Antigua," King said. "It was a small takeover. I think we’ve left our mark on the town."