Rotarians from the Chemainus and Ladysmith Rotary Clubs have returned to Guatemala to continue the great humanitarian work they’ve done over the years in the town of San Antonio Palopo, along Lake Atitlan.
They just managed to get the trip in before the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, but were unable to go last year due to concerns with the virus. A limited team is back on the ground again.
David Sheppard and Tom Andrews are representing the Chemainus Rotary Club and Gerry Beltgens the Ladysmith Rotary Club. Sheppard’s wife Jacqueline, a former Rotarian, coordinates linking various Rotary Clubs with local Mayan volunteers and families that receive project support.
“I’m involved in this construction project,” Andrews explained. “We’re building an addition on this rather small house. They had no place to cook other than on a wooden fire inside their house, no kitchen. What we’re building is this kitchen addition to their house.”
The house is only 12 feet by 15 feet in size and the addition will be seven feet by six feet.
“Two adults and four children live in that house, very young children aged from 11 down to one year,” added Andrews.
“This family, they basically have nothing.”
New stone steps were also constructed to connect this particular family’s lot that sits 20 feet below to the main pathway running through part of town.
“We have a mason we hired to build these stone steps,” Andrews noted.
He spent the first three days with the contractor and his helper doing that work.
“Plus the homeowner (Hilario) has to contribute time because this is a free donation for him,” Andrews explained. “Part of the deal is he has to help out.”
Work on the foundation then commenced and has just been completed. Concrete blocks were placed in stacks of five from the ground and then the framing was done on top.
Wood has now been picked up to finish the project.
In addition, Andrews noted a new vented wood stove is being supplied to cook and heat the house.
In the meantime, Sheppard has been involved in building a double bed and a bunk bed for the kids as well as tables.
“All they have now is one table and they sleep on a concrete floor,” said Andrews. “It’s quite the eye-opener.”
The Rotarians are also supplying a nutritional supplement called Incapernina for children from 50 families for five months.
“Nutrition is a big problem in the town,” noted Andrews. “A lot of them can’t afford food.”
Beltgens is working on a different project, an educational program for Mayan villages on Lake Atitlan, with schools having essentially been closed for two years since the onset of COVID.
“All of the kids are like a lost generation,” said Andrews. “They haven’t had any school.”
The program, called Rachel, supplies an educational server with built-in wifi that holds the entire Guatemalan school curriculum and can serve 10-50 computers.
The Rotarians are pleased their work will help improve the lives of the Mayan families with a focus on health and education.
They also took nearly 50 pairs of shoes for the neediest children, thanks to the contributions of Helen Fowler and Helen Lichtenstein.
“They teamed up and picked them up at the thrift stores,” noted Andrews.
This year’s trip to Guatemala was in limbo again due to COVID, and not as many local Rotarians could commit to it.
“We had the plan, but we didn’t know till the last minute what the government restrictions would be,” Andrews pointed out. “It was really last minute I decided I was safe enough. I had three shots.”
Past Rotarian Joan Takenaka and husband Butch first encouraged Chemainus Rotary Club members to help in Guatemala in 2014. Joan made contact with Jaqueline Mealing (now Sheppard) through the Mid-Island Rotary World Community Service Group to learn how the club could help and its efforts have continued ever since, other than last year’s COVID disruption, but supports were still provided.
Andrews has been on the trip seven times, missing only 2015 due to a broken leg and the COVID hiatus year.
The team returns home next week.
Travel costs are the sole responsibility of the individuals when they go to Guatemala.
The Ladysmith and Chemainus clubs raised more than $6,300 from a Mayan fashion show and sale in Ladysmith last November, 2021, to support the education component in the villages.