Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj leaves soon to begin Rotary Peace Fellowship at university in Thailand

A chance meeting with then-District Governor-Elect Ingrid Neitsch in spring 2018 opened the door for Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj to become a Rotary Peace Fellow.

Menasha had been invited by a friend to attend a Rotary fundraiser, where she met Ingrid. “She asked about what I did for a living,” says Menasha, who works for the Alberta Government in the Department of Justice and Solicitor General. That led to a conversation about Rotary Peace Fellowships.

The purpose of the program is to develop the fellows into experienced and effective catalysts for peace.

“Ingrid mentioned this was something I might be interested in. Initially, we talked about the master’s program, but at this stage of my life, that’s not something that I thought I would be able to do,” Menasha says. “Then we talked about the fellowship (which lasts) for three months.”

Screen Shot 2019-05-22 at 9.34.35 PM

Menasha leaves early in June to begin the intensive three-month professional development certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

“I am leaving from Edmonton on the sixth of June and arrive in Bangkok on the seventh of June, late in the evening. Then I have the eighth and ninth to get my bearings about me and then on the 10th, course work starts.”

In addition to classroom study, the program includes two field trips. 

“One is in Thailand. I don’t know where we will be going, but they have given us some possibilities. There is also one outside of Thailand. In the past, people have gone to Cambodia or Nepal. Sri Lanka was on the list this time, but I’m not sure we are going there,” Menasha says. 

After the program concludes on August 30, Menasha will return to her job with the Alberta government.

I’ve worked with government for 30 years. I was in a training unit for a while, where we did joint training for police and children services around how to work with child sexual abuse. For 14 years, I was with the Edmonton Police Service in a joint operation called the Child at Risk Response Team. I was in a police car, with a police partner, where we responded to child abuse types of calls and social welfare situations.”

More recently, Menasha has worked with representatives of other departments and service providers to find ways to bridge gaps between them.

“We work on the premise of the collective impact and that one system can’t solve all the problems and that without a collective group addressing some of issues, we really end up spinning our wheels,” she says. “Our work here within my area is really about how do we integrate each system into working together, and how do get that conversation happening, which happens as a result of trying to look at what our commonalities are, as opposed to the gaps keep us apart.” 

“I believe the fellowship will support me in the work I currently do, and perhaps even elevate it.”

The application process began soon after Menasha met Ingrid.

The deadline for submitting an application to the District 5370 Scholarship Committee, chaired by Dean Wood (RC of Edmonton Riverview), was May 31, 2018. After she was interviewed by the District committee, her application was forwarded to Rotary International.

“I found out in September that I would be going. Then around September/October, I began to take steps around work. I had to find out whether I would be able to get an educational leave. Work has been very good. They provided me with some educational leave and some leave I can take as holidays. My assistant deputy minister and my director were both very supportive,” Menasha says. 

Her class in the professional development certificate program includes individuals from around the world.

“I’m the only one from Canada. There are two people from the U.S. and people from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Japan and from different parts of South America,” she says.

“I am excited to see what happens. I have talked to one other person who did this. He went through the same process in 2013, and he’s an RCMP member down in Calgary. I spoke to him. What should I expect? To me, it’s an exciting opportunity. I can’t believe I am going because there were so many people around the world whose names are put in for this fellowship. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.”

Menasha has met other members of the group virtually, thanks to the initiative of one of her classmates.

“He reached out to the rest of us via email to identify who he was,” she says. “He’s a police officer from Australia, who is originally from the U.K., and then we all sort of responded accordingly and introduced ourselves and talked about who we were and what we did. That will be a basis when we first meet on June 10.”

“We all hope that we provide that value-added at the end. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to make sure I do my best at this and that I am able to come back and share what we learn and how it applies, not only to the Alberta scene, and also how we can apply our learnings in Canada in terms of the work we do.”

Chulalongkorn University is the site of one of six Rotary Peace Centres at universities worldwide. 

Each year, two groups of up to 25 individuals each are selected worldwide for the professional development certificate program and another 50 receive scholarships to attend two-year master’s programs at the five Peace Centres in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Sweden.

Peace Fellowship scholarships cover the full cost associated with the program—tuition, travel and living expenses.

Indonesian Rotarians prepare to celebrate 20th anniversary of the life-saving Bali Blood Bank, built with support of District 5370 clubs

BBB_BTU_BUILDINGThe claim that Rotary-supported programs and projects save lives can be difficult to prove at times, but in the case of a 1999 project in Indonesia, the evidence is indisputable.

The Bali Blood Bank, the building of which was supported in part by 18 clubs from our District, saved lives.

“When in 2002 a terrorist bombing rocked Bali, the Rotary-funded Bali Blood Bank was instrumental in saving many victims’ lives,” writes Karl-Heinz Schmelzer (RC of Bali Nusa Dua) in an email to our District.

The attack killed 190 and injured hundreds more.

“If it was not for the blood bank, things would have been very much worse,” Freddy Subiyanto (RC of Bali Denpasar) is quoted as saying in an article in the December 2002 issue of The Rotarian.

Freddy, along with Marilyn Fitzgerald (RC of Traverse City, Michigan), are credited with leading the initiative to replace an inadequate blood bank that existed previously.

Marilyn, author of the book If I Had a Water Buffalo, spoke at the 2018 District 5370 Conference.

“Building and equipping of the Bali Blood Bank was only possible through the co-operation of several Districts and many Rotary clubs from around the world, including many clubs from Alberta and District 5370, which contributed substantially in this fundraising effort,” Karl-Heinz writes.

With the support of these Districts and clubs, the project organizers were able to secure a Health, Hunger and Humanity grant from The Rotary Foundation. TRF replaced 3-H grants with Global Grants a few years ago.

The Bali Nusa Dua club and others in District 3400 (Indonesia) and 5000 (Hawaii) plan to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the facility opening during the week of October 13-18.

“The focal point of the celebration will be the presentation of new equipment to upgrade the mobile collection apparatus,” Karl-Heinz writes. 

To date, US$125,000 has been raised to purchase this equipment, which has a price tag of US$185,000. 

“In keeping with RI’s 2019-2020 theme, Rotary Connects the World, we are reaching out to the original clubs and Districts that contributed to building the Blood Bank 20 years ago, to secure the remaining funds needed to submit a Global Grant application and to be part of the continuing of this magnificent collaboration,” writes Karl-Heinz.

In 1998, Marilyn led a Group Study Exchange* from District 6290 (Michigan and Ontario) to Bali, during which the team visited the local blood centre, which served 7.5 million people on three islands from a 600 square-foot building.

In an article in August 1999, The Rotarian describes her reaction to what she saw. “I was horrified,” she recalls. “There was no air conditioning, so the windows were open and insects were flying in. The refrigerator door was broken and held closed with thin tape. Blood could only be stores for 48 hours. They had just two cots for donors. 

“Most of the equipment dated back to the early 1970s. Staff, who lacked rubber gloves, were forced to re-use transfusion needles several times. Crowded, unsanitary conditions prevailed, with staff cooking facilities located next to blood-sorting areas.”

Victims of accidents and diseases, who could have been saved with transfusions, were dying.

When the Group Study Exchange team from District 3400, led by Freddy, paid a return visit to clubs in District 6290, he described the situation during presentations to clubs in Michigan and Ontario.

“So we stood in front of one Rotary Club after another and told our story,” The Rotarian quotes Marilyn as saying. “When Freddy said that people were literally bleeding to death every day—indeed, that very day—because there wasn’t enough blood, they pulled out their chequebooks.”

Additional funds came from the Rotary Club of Hiroshima East and, of course, from clubs in District 5370.

The District 5370 clubs that stepped up to support this project are listed on a plaque displayed in the Bali Blood Bank entrance hall: Sherwood Park, Athabasca, Fort St. John, Edson, Edmonton Glenora, Yellowknife, Dawson Creek, Edmonton Gateway, Westlock, Grande Prairie, Spruce Grove, North Battleford, Morinville, Edmonton Riverview, St. Albert, Edmonton Strathcona, Jasper and Fort McMurray Oilsands. 

To learn more and about how your club can support this 20th anniversary celebration, you can contact Wes Nieman, email: mahout@islandstorm.com. Wes was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Bali Nusa Dua and well acquainted with the history of the Bali Blood Bank.

* The now-discontinued Group Study Exchange program provided four-member teams of young professionals and business people (non-Rotarians), each accompanied by a Rotarian team leader, with opportunities to observe how their professions were practised in another country, and to experience the culture of the host country over a period of four to six weeks. The program was supported by TRF.

Harald Kuckertz is the third member of same Rotary club to receive German honour

The phone call “came out of nowhere just before Christmas,” says Harald Kuckertz (RC of Edmonton Strathcona).

Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 1.11.06 PMSabine Sparwasser, the German Ambassador to Canada, was inviting him to come to Ottawa, where on January 19 Harald received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The award, also known as the Federal Cross of Merit, is the highest tribute Germany can pay to individuals for service to the nation. It was established in 1952 by the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss.

Harald, who was born in Germany but has lived in Canada since the 1970s, currently serves as the Honorary German Consul for northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“It’s a very great honour and even more so for someone who’s not living in Germany, ” Harald says. “It’s comparable to the Order of Canada.”

There are three people in Edmonton who have received the award. 

“All the honorary consuls in the last 20 years have received it. Both my predecessors (Friedrich “Fritz” Koenig and Bernd Reuscher) have received it and both are Rotarians in our club,” Harald says. 

“I think it is unique to have a Rotary club in a foreign country, not Germany, to have three people honoured in that way. I think that is quite special.”

Harald first came to Canada as a 15-year-old, to visit his uncle who was head of the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital, and came again when he was 17.

He studied at the U of A, where he obtained a law degree, and established a practice in Edmonton.

He stayed because of Canada’s natural beauty. 

“My uncle had a cabin in northern Saskatchewan. I liked the nature part of it, which you don’t find in Germany,” he says. “Germany has all the culture that you may want and it also has some beautiful nature spots, but here somehow the largeness of the country grabbed me. I like the Rockies.”

Even though he would become a Canadian citizen, “Harald always kept in touch with his German heritage,” says Donna Hutton, the president-elect of the Edmonton Strathcona Rotary Club. “Over the years, his office in Strathcona became the place to go for German and Canadian citizens and companies in need of good advice. 

“He was one of the first persons the Alberta government or the City of Edmonton would go to when German delegations came to town or trade missions were sent on their way to Germany,” Donna says.

For many years, Harald served on the board or as president of the German Canadian Business and Professional Association. 

In 2013, Harald took on the additional task of Honorary Consul.

“An honorary consul is a volunteer position, so we’re not paid,” Harald says. “We do certain consular functions, such as accepting passport applications and certifying documents. 

“And then there is a representative part of the role. We go to government functions,” he says. “We assist German people and organizations with respect to their dealings with the Canadian government. We help them find their way around.”

Honorary consuls for western Canada are recruited by the German Consul General inScreen Shot 2019-04-22 at 1.11.29 PM Vancouver, with some involvement of the ambassador.

“They tend to pick people with a legal background for the simple reason that we have to deal with documents and lawyers are probably a well-suited to that,” says Harald. “However my predecessor had no legal background and he did an excellent job, so it’s not a necessity.” 

Harald is also there to help German citizens in difficult situations. “We go to the Remand Centre when some German citizen has been in trouble, for whatever reasons.”

Other honorary consul have supported German citizens following tragic events, although Harald has not dealt with those, himself.

“You may recall the shooting of a German tourist west of Calgary. My colleague in Calgary was extensively involved,” Harald says. “There was also an unfortunate incident of a young German skier who died after crashing at Lake Louise. Again this was not my district, but my colleague down in Calgary was involved.”

Harald says Alberta is the only province that has two honorary consuls, because of the number of tourists who visit. 

“The province is split at Red Deer. I basically have Red Deer and north and I am also in charge of the Northwest Territories. My colleague in Calgary deals with southern Alberta. We work closely together.”

In addition to the two honorary consuls in Alberta, there are four others in Canada, in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Halifax and St. John’s. There are Consul Generals in Vancouver and Toronto and the embassy in Ottawa.

Spring 2019 Leadership Assembly prepared incoming club leaders for the next Rotary year

This spring’s Leadership Assembly (March 8 and 9) was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of 2018-2019 and set the table for the next Rotary year, which begins on July 1.

Approximately 175 Rotarians attended this event, including District leaders and club presidents-elect and members of their leadership teams, including for the first time, the presidents-elect of Rotary Clubs of Whitehorse and Whitehorse Rendezvous. 

Effective July 1, these two Yukon clubs will become part of District 5370.

District Governor-Elect Tracey Vavrek used the assembly to introduce the 2019-2020 theme set by incoming Rotary International President Mark Maloney (RC of Decatur, Alabama): Rotary Connects the World.

Watch as Mark announces the theme to DGEs at the International Assembly in San Diego in January and read about the course he has mapped out for Rotary’s future in an interview in the March 2019 issue of The Rotarian.

“When you reflect on the theme, what comes to mind?” Tracey asked.

T1920EN_PMS-C“For me, it is that we share values and follow the Four-Way Test, we collectively take action for a better world, and we are doing this together,” she said.

“We connect with friends we would never otherwise have met. Rotary connects us to people who need our help and through Rotary we are connected globally through countless projects and programs.”

“The world needs Rotary. As you reflect on the unrest and challenges around the world, it is concerning. We know the work we do and our service do create peace within families, communities and around the world. By bringing fresh water to a community, we bring peace and economic wellbeing to the individuals living there.”

Tracey referred to being part of the Project Amigo work week in mid-February with past and future District Governors as “an example of how we connect with others. It’s life-changing—we are helping people reach their dreams.”

IMG_6911

DGE Tracey Vavrek introduced the 2019-2020 theme during Spring Leadership Assembly

She also asked participants in the assembly to imagine a world without Rotary. “Imagine what would happen with polio if we stopped now. Imagine the people who would go hungry in our own communities and around the world. Imagine the children who would not have extra support to reach their dreams. The children of today and of tomorrow need Rotary.”

Continue to grow Rotary

Tracey asked participants to think about how to grow Rotary.

“Membership is a critical topic,” she said, noting the importance of attracting younger people to Rotary. “Only five per cent of Rotary members are under the age of 40.”

“Few organizations span generations and professions and build personal connections the way Rotary does. We blend tradition with innovation and use trust and respect to close the generation gap.”

“Many of us have been able to get younger generations to visit a meeting or participate in a project but getting them to join our clubs has been more difficult,” Tracey said.

She stated that Rotary can offer younger people what they want. “They crave connections—a network of more experienced professionals, mentors with insight, with clout. They also crave experiences. They want to do good.” 

PDG and Zone Membership Coordinator Jim Adamson from Washington State (District 5060) followed up Tracey’s presentation by reminding participants of the importance of inviting the right people to join Rotary.

“None of us would have joined Rotary if someone hadn’t asked us. We need to ask them,” he said.

“We aren’t just looking for bodies. We are looking for quality people.”

DG Ingrid highlights 2018-2019 successes

Current DG Ingrid used her time on the stage to “share some highlights of our Rotary year to-date and emphasize the need to follow through on current plans.

“My District Governor journey has been amazing, engaging and rewarding—confirming the true value of Rotary and why we are doing this service work. I am immensely proud to be a Rotarian and the District Governor of this District.”

Ingrid’s favourite experiences so far this year?

“Absolutely, it has been visiting our clubs, engaging in our community projects, and connecting with our members.”

She has visited all 57 clubs, making repeat visits to some.

IMG_6944

DG Ingrid Neitsch highlighted successes during 2018-2019 during Spring Leadership Assembly

“Each area of our District is unique and the range of projects is astounding. Some clubs shine with their welcoming atmosphere and signature projects. Some clubs are passionate about international projects and concentrate on fundraising. Some clubs focus mainly on keeping current members engaged in fellowship and attracting new members. Some clubs have chosen to focus on aligning Rotary projects with peace-building activities. Some clubs collaborate, support other clubs’ projects and focus on hands-on projects.”

She emphasized that the culture and value base established in the club is what keeps members engaged.

Highlights Ingrid identified were:

“The District Conference 2018 was fabulous! Some clubs are still following-up with some of our amazing speakers. Thanks to all who participated as volunteers, conference committee members or attendees.”

She reminded her audience of the 2019 District Conference that will be held in Grande Prairie October 3-5.

A second highlight was the relocation of the District office to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton. “It’s a bright, cheerful space accessible to all, with security and maintenance in place.”

Ingrid also referred to the goals in the District strategic plan. “Many goals are completed, some are in progress and some are ongoing.”

She encouraged clubs to create their own plans. “To be change-makers, your club needs a plan of action.”

“One of the main goals this year is to reverse the declining membership trends these past several years. I mentioned that in every single one of my club visits. Every club was asked to retain the current membership and attract three new members,” she said.

“I want to regain the minus 110 members lost last year, plus make a net gain of 50 members by the end of June.”

She urged club leaders to “treat your membership list like a gift. Just because you haven’t seen someone for a while, do not take them off your list. Reach out. Find out what is happening in their world. They are Rotarians and at one time were passionate about Rotary.”

The District membership plan includes establishing new clubs, including the Passport club which is being formed in Edmonton. “We are launching a new Passport club for new and former Rotarians and plan to charter it before June 1.”

5370 reached goal to become a Peacebuilder District

IMG_8851A key District initiative for 2018-2019 was for the District to become a Peacebuilder District, which Ingrid announced during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018, and to sponsor a peace scholar.

“We achieved the peace scholar, as was announced at the District Conference. Out of 1,100 applicants from around the world, only 50 master’s and 30 certificate applicants were chosen, including our applicant, Menasha Nikhanji.

The goal of becoming a Peacebuilder District was also reached.

“We needed to donate $US 25,000 to the Rotary Peace Centres to receive Peacebuilder status within Rotary International. “We have had tremendous support. Clubs and individuals donated close to $24,000, which along with $20,000 in District Designated Funds brings us close to $50,000,” Ingrid says.

“We have reached the goal for this year and are very close to two years of support for the Peace Centres.”

Ingrid closed with words of encouragement for the rest of 2018-2019:  “Let’s finish strong! Keep the positive momentum going, finish blazing our trail and we will continue to flourish as we inspire each other as ‘Rotary Connects the World!’ ”

This month, Highway to Mexico will deliver its 100th vehicle—plus vehicles #97-99 and 101-106

IMG_2941

Fire shuttle van will be the 100th vehicle to be delivered to Mazatlan through the Highway to Mexico program since 2002

Later this week, Rotarians from our District will arrive in Mazatlan with what has been designated as the 100th vehicle to be delivered to the city and the Mexican state of Sinaloa since Highway to Mexico began in 2002 with a single school bus filled with wheelchairs. 

Vehicle number 100—a former hotel shuttle that has been repurposed to become a fire support shuttle—is one of 10 vehicles in this year’s convoy, which left Grande Prairie on March 29.

“I think it an incredible achievement to keep this project sustainable and to keep people involved and to be able to raise the funds we require to do this, year after year,” says Felix Seiler (Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City), who is making his 12th or 13th trip to Mexico.

This year’s convoy, which was described in a recent article by Edmonton Journal columnist Nick Lees, and also in an interview on CBC’s Radio Active, includes two fire trucks, four ambulances, three school buses and the fire support shuttle, bringing the total number of vehicles delivered since the program began to 106.

IMG_2922

Loading wheelchairs from Alberta Health Services

Eighty-five per cent of the vehicles delivered by Highway to Mexico are still in service. 

Knowing that the residents of this part of Mexico have better access to emergency transportation and fire protection because of this program is a source of pride for the Rotarians who have been part of Highway to Mexico over the years.

“You can’t miss it. You see the Rotary name on these vehicles whenever they pass by,” Felix says.

“You get immediate gratification when you realize each of these vehicles will be in use for years to come.” 

The Highway to Mexico was recognized with the Gilbert Paterson Award for International Service during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018.

Several awards for international, community and youth services will be presented at this year’s changeover event on Thursday, June 27, at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. The deadline for submitting entries for the 2018-2019 awards is May 15.

The vehicles come from various sources. The fire shuttle vehicle was donated by the hotel where it formerly served as a hotel shuttle. The two fire trucks were purchased at auctions by Rotary clubs. 

IMG_1292Two ambulances were part of eight obtained from Alberta Health Services, while another was donated by an oilfield ambulance service. The school buses were purchased from school systems through sealed bids. Other vehicles were purchased by individuals in order to donate them to the project.

Once they obtain vehicles, Rotary clubs arrange to have them refurbished. In addition to the Swan City club, other clubs involved in this year’s Highway to Mexico include the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie, Grande Prairie After Five, Peace River, Edson and Edmonton Riverview.

Several other clubs have participated in the project in previous years.

Getting these vehicles to Mexico required a great deal of organization, which began long before they left Grande Prairie.

“It is almost like on ongoing project,” Felix says. “We are already in the process of collecting vehicles for next year.  Six months out, we begin to do paperwork with our Mexican colleagues. It’s very time-consuming.”

Each of this year’s 20 drivers—two for each vehicle—received a detailed itinerary for the 5,000 km journey, identifying everything from the order in which the vehicles will travel (“All vehicles will travel in the same position in the convoy until we reach Mazatlan”) and speed at which they will travel (“The convoy should travel around 95-100 km per hour, depending on the slowest vehicle in the convoy”), to where the convoy will stop to refuel and where the drivers will sleep each night.

There is also advice on crossing the two borders they will encounter.

“Crossing the U.S. border is not as much of a challenge as it once was,” Felix says, explaining all the necessary paperwork is in place before the journey begins.

Entering Mexico at Nogales can be a different story. 

“Every year, it’s a new experience. Crossing the Mexican border can take from two to 14 hours,” Felix says.

“We usually have a pool (US$10 each) on how long it will take to cross the border. The winner is usually responsible for beer at a later date.”

Rotarians from Mexican clubs meet the convey each year at the border for the final segment of the journey.

Referring to these Rotarians, Felix says, “We have made lots of good personal friends over the years.”

While the Canadian Rotary clubs obtain the vehicles, Mexican Rotarians decide where they will go.

“They go through an application process. The organizations requesting vehicles need to prove that they have the resources necessary to keep the vehicles on the road.”

Once they reach Mazatlan, the Canadians will park the vehicles and head to their hotel in the Golden Zone, before participating in activities over the next few days organized by local Rotarians.

Then it will be time to fly home to begin preparations for the 2020 version of Highway to Mexico.

Project Amigo workweek: an opportunity to serve, learn and bond for past and future District Governors

After spending a week volunteering at Project Amigo with several Past District Governors and their spouses, Jim Ferguson (Rotary E-club of Canada One) feels he knows these former District 5370 leaders much better than before.

Jim Feguson with Kinder

Jim Ferguson with kindergarten-aged soccer players

“I hadn’t had much interaction with Past District Governors. I had seen them at District events but only knew them to say hi,” says Jim, who will serve as District 5370 governor in 2020-2021. “I thought of them as Rotary royalty for what they have accomplished in our District.”

“When you get together and actually have a chance to get to know them personally, it was a fantastic experience,” Jim says. “The PDGs are a great group of people.”

The idea of a workweek for District Governors has been percolating for several years, according to PDG Elly Contreras (Rotary E-club of Canada One), who now serves as Canadian Intermediary for the Project Amigo Canada Society (PACS). 

“My wish was to have more Rotarians, particularly my fellow governors, participate,” she says. “Several expressed interest, but it just didn’t happen.”

Plans made at District Conference in Fort McMurray

That is, nothing happened until the 2017 District Conference in Fort McMurray. 

“At the conference, there was discussion about why more clubs didn’t participate in Project Amigo,” says Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray), who was District Governor at the time. “We talked about it, which led to us deciding to schedule a workweek for past District Governors.”

In addition to Jim and his wife Jocelyn, the team that went to Cofradia, Mexico, in mid-February, included  DGE Tracey Vavrek and her husband Vince, and seven PDGs and their spouses—Judy Brown (Ron), Elly Contreras (Ramiro), Terry Drader (Mary), Ross Tyson (Brenda), Jackie Hobal (Wayne), Betty Screpnek (George), and Frank Reitz (Barbara).

Elly, who has been visiting Project Amigo since 2008 organized the visit by the past and future District  Governors.

“I found right from the very moment we arrived that the week was very well-organized and action-packed. Elly had us on the move from morning to night,” Jim says.

“They were surprised by the wonderful accommodation with private bathrooms, the wonderful meals every day, the various activities planned for them, and most of all by the amazing structures Project Amigo has developed over the last 35 years,” Elly says.

PDG Judy Brown (Rotary E-club of Canada One) has an even longer history with Project Amigo than Elly as a longtime volunteer and as a member of the PACS board.

“I first heard about Project Amigo when Ted Rose and Susan Hill came to Edmonton and did a presentation for our Rotary club (Edmonton Riverview),” Judy says. “My late husband, Peter, and I spent our winter vacations in Manzanillo, which is only about one and half hours away from where Project Amigo is headquartered.”

“The next year, we visited with Ted and Susan at Project Amigo. Ted took us around the area to show us what they were doing. Peter and I went back pretty well every year from 2002 to 2010.”

“My husband, Ron Brown, and I have attended three workweeks since 2012,” Judy says. “We keep coming back because we are hooked on this great initiative—seeing first-hand what a difference we are making by enabling children to go to school.”

“For nearly 20 years, Rotarians from our District have participated in workweeks at Project Amigo during the winter months,” Elly says. 

Click here to learn how you can be part of a future Project Amigo workweek.

Each of the governors had his or her own reason for volunteering for this workweek. For Jim, it was an opportunity to be part of a service project in another country. 

“I haven’t been on an overseas service project before and this was a chance to participate in one,” Jim says, who also had a more personal connection to Project Amigo.

“Our E-club has a student we are supporting through Project Amigo, so I knew I would have a chance to meet her.”

Clubs and individuals can sponsor Project Amigo students: $135 a year for an elementary student, $795 for a secondary student and $5,280 for a post-secondary student (including accommodation at Casa Amigo). In addition, there are other non-sponsorship ways to support Project Amigo.

PDG Ross Tyson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) felt that volunteering with other past governors would be something special.

“We had talked about it for a long time and planned for the workweek for about a year,” he says. “The fellowship you gain from going with people you know is second to none because you spend 16 hours a day together.”

“I was pleasantly surprised by what the people with Project Amigo do,” Ross says. “I only thought about sponsoring students. I had not expected to see children mentoring each other in the homework club. After school, the older sponsored kids nurture and coach younger sponsored kids.”

Ross notes that to remain in the Project Amigo program the students must keep up with their studies. 

“They are required to maintain a certain average to stay in the program,” he says. “This is a sustainable aspect of Project Amigo, because it helps ensure that the sponsors’ money is well spent.”

The team spent its days visiting schools, meeting students and their parents, and becoming involved in activities with the children. 

“We were able to feel the positive impact of Project Amigo when we met the kids and their parents. These kids are having a positive experience—the opportunity for a better life,” says Frank

Tracey Vavrek Reading with student

DGE Tracey Vavrek reads with a Project Amigo student

“We met children who only experienced going to school (with) books and crayons because of the direct participant of Project Amigo and their supporters,” says DGE Tracey (RC of Grande Prairie After Five).

“We met teenagers who are advancing and actively participating in their schooling due to the financial support and gifts of tools like computers and books. We met young people who were on the road to becoming lawyers, nurses, hairstylists and more, because someone invested time and resources in them, believing in them,” she says.

Each team member brought an extra suitcase filled with colouring books, crayons, toothbrushes, clothing and other supplies, which they distributed to students at Project Amigo and to the children at a nearby camp for migrant workers.

The migrant workers bring their families with them when they come from other parts of

Ramiro Deliving Food bags at MIgrant Camp

Ramiro Contreras delivers a bag of food to a family in the migrant camp 

Mexico to work in sugar cane fields. At the camp, the team “witnessed poverty at a level I could only imagine,” says Tracey. “We saw homes that were small concrete facilities with dirt floors, with access to water in a common area outside of the homes. This area was used for dishwashing and washing clothes.”

 “This was an opportunity to experience a lifestyle that was so different than ours,” Frank says. “Inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre have it better than these families.”

Beside working with the children, the workweek was an opportunity to experience the culture of Mexico. 

They learned to make salsa and guacamole, joined a meeting of the Rotary Club of Coquimatlan, visited the La Campana archeological site, and toured a mescal distillery. 

The team even helped Frank and Barbara celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary.

For all the District Governors, past and future, the Project Amigo was a special experience. 

“It did bring us together in a way we weren’t before. We are a family of past governors, but thought the workweek, we came together in our understanding of the values of Rotary and the potential of Rotary,” Frank says. 

“The level of interaction was different than in the past. We all experienced something that was really amazing and that only comes from participation in a common experience,” he says.

“It was so great to share Project Amigo with our Rotary colleagues, to see the emotion they felt when interacting with the beautiful children that we are helping,” says Judy. “We experienced wonderful Rotary fellowship and got to know everyone better than before. It was truly an amazing week, never to be forgotten.”

During week-long Guatemala Eye Project Rotarians from Edmonton West saw 841 patients

During their Guatemala Eye Project in early January, members of the Rotary Club of Edmonton West experienced a mix of emotions.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.56 PM“During any international projects, there are those moments when you see instantly the difference you are making to the lives of the people you are helping,” says club president Annie Mueller. “There are also the heartbreaking moments when you realize there is nothing you can do.” 

A high point of the mission for Annie was the reaction of a patient after receiving reading glasses. “He was so happy and grateful that he went around to all of the volunteers to thank them personally. These glasses will change his life.”

For others who came to clinics seeking help, there was disappointment.

“A mother brought in her son, who had very poor sight. She was full of hope that we could help. Unfortunately, (ophthalmologist Carlos Solórzano) had to tell her that nothing could be done and her son would lose his sight completely,” Annie says. “He will not be able to finish school, work or lead a productive life.”

Dr. Solórzano is a member of the Rotary Club of Huehuetenango, which runs the project annually. The Guatemalan team included optometrists, two ophthalmology residents, a dentist, a pediatrician several Rotary volunteers.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.14 PM“They pick the clinic locations, ensuring that they are the most needy and have the facilities we need,” says Edmonton optometrist and Rotarian Benjamin Doz, who led the team from Edmonton West. “They handle the advertising, translators, volunteers and transportation. In addition, they arrange billets and ensure the visiting teams are kept healthy and safe.”

“They are some of the warmest, most hospitable Rotarians you will ever run into,” Benjamin says. “Their skills and abilities married up with efficiency are what have made this project so successful over 22 years.”

Benjamin and his wife Marley have been involved in this project for all those years. Other Rotarians from Edmonton West who were part of the Edmonton contingent are Al and Karen Sanderson, Duane and Cathy Evans, Fred Kraft and Lorne Proctor. The Rotarians were trained to support the work of the optometrist and ophthalmologists. 

“They performed triage, pre-testing, pharmaceutical dispensing, glasses dispensing and physician assistance,” Benjamin says. “Everyone worked in organization, basic labour and patient care.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 12.51.15 PMA total of 841 patients were seen in clinics held in three communities during the week-long mission.

“We dispensed medication, gave out reading glasses, ordered prescription glasses to be sent from Canada and booked 44 cataract surgeries,” Annie says.

The mission wasn’t without challenges, beginning as soon as the Canadians landed in Guatemala City. 

“Upon arriving in Guatemala City, we learned that our medical equipment hadn’t arrived. It was still in Mexico,” Annie says.

“The next morning, Ben and Lorne stayed behind to sort out the lost luggage and the rest of the team proceed to Antigua (a town about 45 minutes from Guatemala City),” she says. “We set up a clinic in a school for orphans and children of single mothers, which the Rotary Club of Canmore helps to fund.”

During this clinic, the team saw 67 children and adults who suffered from various conditions. “We dispensed medication, handed out reading glasses and took orders for prescription glasses,” Annie says.

The next morning, the team traveled to La Libertad, where they held clinics for three days.

“This village is very isolated and situated on the side of a mountain at an elevation of 5,643 feet,” Annie says. “The roads were incredibly steep. It took a lot of skill to get the van and truck to the clinic, which of course, was at the highest point in the village.”

At the end of the first day of this clinic, the team headed to its hotel, which Annie describes as “unfinished—some rooms had no running water, no bedding or working toilets.”

“In each room, a two-foot metal cage was fixed some six feet up on a wall opposite the bed. Likely it was to lock a TV into, but it was empty,” Benjamin says.

With several roosters crowing outside their rooms, “we decided that [these cages] would be a great place to keep your rooster,” Annie says.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.43 PMAfter three days in La Liberta, the team returned to Huehuetenago, where they attended
a Rotary meeting and spent the night, before heading to the small town of Casa Grande for the final two days of clinics.

“It was a miserable four-plus hour drive from Huehuetenago, across a 10,000-foot plateau,” Benjamin says. The clinic was set up in the community centre.

During this clinic, the team was joined by a pediatrician, who is a member of the Huehuetenago Rotary Club.

“The pediatrician was quite a guy,” Benjamin says. “He motorcycled into Casa Grande through the rain. He worked a very long day and then went home in the rain in the dark that night.

“He asked what he could do at the start of the day. Being short of translators who could do an apt job, I thought [of] counselling noncompliant diabetic patients and doing informed consents for surgery would help with a small backlog of patients we had at the time. 

“I thought it was a small, short task. Little did I know how much diabetic retinopathy would be seen and how much surgery was required. He was surrounded with a lineup of patients for the rest of the day—likely far more than anyone would want to do looking forward to that drive home.”

Summing up her experience as part of the Guatemala Eye Project, Annie says:

“Guatemala is bright, energetic and colourful. We saw mountains, isolated plateaus and powerful volcanoes. But the people are what make Guatemala such a special place. They are friendly, helpful and they welcomed us with open arms. Many of the patients we saw were quick to smile and laugh. It was a pleasure to spend time with them.”

She has particular praise for the two young men who served as translators and provided an example of how they made the team’s jobs so much easier. 

“Fred was fitting glasses for a lady. He had given her the prescription indicated by Ben on her card, and was asking her, through the interpreter, if she could read what was on the card. She said ‘No.’ He double-checked the prescription, gave her a different pair of glasses and tried again. She said ‘No.’ Fred went back to ask Ben if he was misreading the prescription. No, Ben assured him that it was correct. Fred then went back to the lady and tried again. No luck. It was then that Fred realized, through the interpreter that the glasses were perfect. She just couldn’t read!”