Rotary Youth Exchange chair aims to grow the program

When Myrna Findt (RC of Spruce Grove) meets with students returning from their year-long Rotary Youth Exchange, it reinforces the decision she made to become the District 5370 Youth Exchange chair.

“The changes in these kids and the personal growth and the potential of all these kids with this type of change is tremendous,” she says. “You can see the difference. That’s all I need to be absolutely supportive of the program.”

The students’ experience of living and studying in another country can have lifelong effects, says Myrna. “The decision they make about what they want to do later on is very often reflective of the kind of experience they had.”

Myrna recalls receiving a phone call from a parent who was surprised by what she had heard from her son. “The kid who was just to have been in Finland for a year, calls over and says, ‘Mom, I’ve already looked into the option of doing my university here in Finland.’ ”

Mryna hopes more clubs will provide students with similar experiences by deciding to participate in the Rotary Youth Exchange program. “We are really hoping to grow the program,” she says.

Myrna sees her role as a support to the clubs that participate in the exchange program.

She hopes to be a resource for clubs interested in learning more about it.  “No matter where they are, I will find a way to come and talk to them in person if they are interested, as part of a club meeting or whatever works,” she says. If she can’t attend a meeting in person, she will meet with them virtually, via Zoom or Facetime.

Currently, the District has 10 outbound students in other countries, and clubs in our District are hosting nine inbounds from these same countries (one student chose to return home early).

During 2020-2021, there will be 11 each of outbound and inbound students.

“We had 14 clubs interested for the coming year,” Myrna says. “Unfortunately, not all the clubs were successful in recruiting students.”

The program is an exchange between Rotary Districts. “It’s a one-in, one-out,” Myrna says. “We send one student to a District and we receive one from that District.”

The inbound students are hosted by clubs, either individually or in partnership with another club.

Participants are high school-aged students and all attend school where they are living for the year.

During this year, the exchange includes Districts in eight countries—Finland, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Japan and Denmark.

For students wishing to be part of the exchange, the process begins with face-to-face interviews with representatives of the sponsoring club.

“The clubs identify their successful candidate and ask this candidate to send an application to the District,” Myrna says. “Then we do interviews on a District level. This is not to pick the students. It’s more to confirm the club’s choice.”

Once the outbound students are selected, the District helps prepare them for their year of exchange.

“We have an outbound bootcamp for them in March, where they work with the outbound counsellors from their clubs,” Mryna says. “As well, we provide online language training, once we know which country the (students) will go to. They are expected to complete about 200 hours of language training before they go to their host countries.”

The District also assists with the administrative tasks related to the exchange, “but the hosting and fun part is done by the clubs, providing host families, having events, taking them on trips, making sure they go to school,” Myrna says.

“The District provides help with the paperwork in regard to visa application. We work with travel agents to book their flights. We work with the host District to decide when they should arrive.

“We work with the [outbound] counsellors so they can build a relationship with the students and with the parents, which is very important for a successful exchange. It is important that parents are aware of what’s going on and how everything should work.” 

The students usually begin their exchange in August, when they fly to their host country. That’s also when the inbound students arrive in Canada.

“They are picked up by their inbound counsellors, and sometimes other members from their host clubs, from the airport,” Myrna says. 

“The District provides an inbound weekend, when we welcome all of them. We give them training on how to deal with the first host families, what they will see when it comes to work in school and what’s different,” she says. 

“Then we organize some mandatory events throughout the year and well as some optional trips for them. The students are supposed to go the District conference, the inbound training, and at the end of their year here we have training to support them and prepare them for what they will experience when they return to their country. We call that ‘reverse cultural shock.’ ”

The District collects a fee from clubs participating in the Youth Exchange program, which covers costs related to transportation, training and insurance.

How they finance this is up to the clubs. “Some clubs just pay it out of their club budgets. Some clubs ask parents to pay a specific fee to the club,” Myrna says. “Some clubs pay additional money to the outbounds, because usually in other countries they also have optional trips.”

Myrna’s contact information: or (780) 292-2931.

Rotarians from Edmonton Strathcona provide gifts to women and children living in shelter at Christmas


Rotarians from Edmonton Strathcona brought gifts for residents of the WINGS women’s shelter to their Christmas party

The decision by the Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona to make Women in Need Growing Stronger the beneficiary of its 2019 Christmas project flowed naturally from members’ discussions last year to define the focus of the club’s community service efforts. 

“Our emphasis is on women and children, so WINGS fits very nicely,” say Rotarian Audrey Martyn. “It looks like WINGS will be sticking around with us for a little while now.”

WINGS was established by the Sisters of Providence in 1986. According to its website, “At WINGS, we address the social, psychological and health issues affecting women and children, extending our programs inclusively to clients of all races, cultural and religious backgrounds.”

“It’s a two-stage housing project for women who are leaving domestic abuse,” Audrey says. “In their first-stage housing, they take people in who have just left situations of abuse. Most of the women come with children. They provide them with shelter for the first six months. They also provide counselling for the mothers and the children and they provide daycare services. 

“Then they have stage-two housing, which is after you have been there for six months. Then they place you in an apartment. Organizations and people donate things to help them furnish their apartments. The women are encouraged to go into education, because they need to find a job and move on with their life.

“They can be there for a couple of years before they are phased out. It depends on how successful they are and how much background and education they have.”

Each Christmas season, members of the Edmonton Strathcona club select a charity to support. “We have always done something with a charity that deals with homelessness or people in need in some way,” Audrey says. 

This year, the club prepared Christmas boxes for women and members purchased pyjamas for children at the centre. These were presented to WINGS director Rhonda Jansen, who made a presentation during the club’s Christmas party at University of Alberta Faculty Club.

Rotarians were asked to fill shoeboxes purchased at a dollar store with personal care items for the women. 

“We tell people to put in things like hand lotion, body lotion, lip gloss, deodorant, socks, mitts and small things, because it is only one little box. You need to get it in the box,” Audrey says.

This year, Rotarians also provided pyjamas for the approximately 100 children living at the shelter.

“People were told to wrap them in Christmas wrap and put boy or girl and the size on it,” Audrey says. “We had over 100 pyjamas and more than 60 boxes.”

Members brought the pyjamas to the Christmas party, after which Rotarians loaded them and the boxes into the WINGS director’s van.


Rotarians from Edmonton Strathcona filled a trunk with gifts for women and children at WINGS

In addition to the support they provided at Christmas, members of the Edmonton Strathcona club have donated $5,000 for the daycare facility.

Also they collected clothing for the women. 

“A bunch of us who have a professional background asked if anyone wanted to donate clothing, especially for women who are looking for jobs,” Audrey says. “Many of us are retired or semi-retired, so we don’t need as many things in our closet, or they don’t fit anymore. We collected 12 large garbage bags full of clothing.” 

One member brought in 40 purses. 

“She didn’t want everyone to know, but by the time the evening was over, everyone in the room knew that she had shown up with 40 purses,” Audrey says. “We had a laugh about that. We were like, ‘How many?’”

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona meets on Tuesdays at 12:15 p.m. at the Woodvale Facility and Golf Clubhouse, 4540-50 Street NW

Mark your calendar—upcoming Rotary events during 2020

Mark your calendar

As you plan for 2020, here are a few Rotary-related dates to keep in mind, including District 5370 and Rotary International events and a few significant club milestones. Keep an eye on the Announcements section of the biweekly District 5370 CONNECTIONS newsletter for additional information about these and other events as we get closer to these dates.

Note that announcements related to any upcoming club event that Rotarians from other clubs should know about are always welcome. Email a brief description and include a link to a website for more information on how to register or buy tickets, to We’ll tweet about your event and include it in future District 5370 CONNECTIONS newsletters.

PETS 2020: Planning Your Year 

Saturday, February 1

District 5370 will be hosting an exciting day of learning for Rotary and Rotaract Presidents-Elect and Assistant Governors in Edmonton, Grande Prairie and other locations across our District 5370.

Register in the location of your choice.


Webinar for Rotary and Rotaract Presidents-Elect and Assistant Governors

Monday, March 9 (7-8:30 p.m.)

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


Edmonton Area Integrity Awards — Wednesday, March 18

Chateau Lacombe Hotel Ballroom, 10111 Bellamy Hill Rd., Edmonton

6 p.m. Doors open and cocktails

6:30 Buffet Supper

7-9 Presentation of Awards

Tickets:           $60.


Spring Learning Assembly: Power of Team Leadership

Friday evening, March 20 and Saturday, March 21

Chateau Louis Hotel and Conference Centre

11727 Kingsway NW,  Edmonton

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


The Rotary Foundation Grants Training (Webinar) 

As part of our district stewardship regarding use of The Rotary Foundation funds all clubs wishing to participate in District or Global Grants must have at least one club representative attend one of our training webinars.  There are five available times you can attend which should allow everyone the opportunity to be involved.  Webinar dates have been tentatively set as follows:

April 2nd, 7th, 15th & 22nd at 7:00 PM MT and April 11th at 9:00 AM MT.  

An invitation and further details will be forthcoming in early March.

Rotary Club of the Battlefords — 100th Anniversary Celebration 

Friday, April 24

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


Webinar for Rotary and Rotaract Presidents-Elect and Assistant Governors

Monday, May 4 (7-8:30 p.m.)

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


Rotary Club of Edmonton South — 70th Anniversary Celebration 

Thursday, May 21 or May 28 

(Date to be confirmed) 

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.47.38 PM2020 Rotary International Convention

Honolulu, Hawaii

June 6 – 10

Deadline for discounted registration is March 31, 2020


Rotary Flyer Hawaii Convention 2020__V10


Webinar for Rotary and Rotaract Presidents-Elect and Assistant Governors

Wednesday, June 17 (7-8:30 p.m.)

Watch District 5370 CONNECTIONS for more details.


Rotary Club of Yellowknife 50th Anniversary

Saturday, June 20

The Rotary Club of Yellowknife was chartered on May 20, 1970. We are inviting all Rotarians to join us on Saturday, June 20 for a barbecue in Rotary Park. It is a festive long weekend in Yellowknife with a solstice festival on Main Street on June 19, a midnight golf tournament on June 21 and a fish fry and stage show on June 21 for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.


Vision 2020 Logo w dateVision 2020 District Conference

September 17-19

DoubleTree by Hilton, Edmonton

A great lineup of speakers including Project Amigo alumna Valeria Guadalupe Ramírez Rojas, Rotary Global Grant Scholar Amy Smith, Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott, and Dr. Mark Joffe, a health-care leader with a lifelong passion for and interest in the prevention of infectious diseases, including polio.

Plus: The House of Friendship and “Project Fair,” where you can showcase your club projects, connect with fellow Rotarians, share ideas, learn, inspire and celebrate all our successes; and Rotary’s Got Talent on Friday evening, where you can become part of the entertainment. 


Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Association (WGIPPA) Assembly

September 18-20, 2020

East Glacier, Montana


Zones 28 & 32 Symposia

(focusing on two of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals)

Life On Land – Anchorage, Alaska, November 19-21, 2020

Life Below Water – Hamilton, Bermuda, January 14-16, 2021

For more information, visit our Zone website and choose the symposium link under “Zone Conferences.”

Tracey Vavrek reflects on her first six months as District Governor

Six months into the role and after having visited all 60 clubs, District Governor Tracey Vavrek is feeling proud to be part of Rotary District 5370.

“I am honoured to represent District 5370, especially after what we’ve experienced in our travels, seeing the impact that members are making,” Tracey says.

Reaching all 60 clubs required Tracey and Vince to drive 32,000 km in their Toyota Highlander, nicked named Amelia Kind Heart. There were also flights to visit the two clubs in Whitehorse, which became part of our District on July 1, 2019.

0080_t.sedore-photography-aug2018-1.jpg“We’ve had the opportunity to meet close to 2,000 individuals,” Tracey says. “All our members have such a beautiful spirit of family, connectedness, friendship and feeling they can to do so much for others.”

Tracey found that no matter their size, Rotary clubs across the District are making a difference in their communities.

“We have clubs with maybe 20 or 25 members and they are the strength of the community,” she says. “They’re on the ground, working really hard together and partnering with a variety of organizations and municipalities to help ensure the communities they live in are extremely strong and have what’s needed.”

Apart from club visits, there have been other highlights. Topping the list has been the opportunity to induct new Rotarians.

“At many clubs, we have inducted new members into the Rotary family. It has been very humbling to see their excitement, their energy and their passion and to know that they are there to make a difference for others,” Tracey says.

Tracey encourages Rotarians to invite others to join Rotary, “because the world and our communities need more Rotary and we need more members to help us do more.”

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 12.48.47 PMAnother highlight was the Pints for Polio initiative to raise funds to help eradicate polio.

“I’m extremely proud of our members’ dedication to our Pints for Polio initiative. The majority, if not all, clubs have done something in support of ending polio.” Tracey says.

“We know the importance of a hard push right now, so this extra work that our clubs are doing has been absolutely tremendous.”

The People of Action District Conference, held in Grande Prairie in October, was successful both financially and in terms of the enthusiasm of participants.

With 560 registrations, including 135 first-time attendees, it was the District’s largest conference ever. “Following the conference, many Rotarians spoke to us about different things that they grabbed from the conference that they were utilizing themselves and within their clubs.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 11.19.17 PMThe next District Conference, Vision 2020, will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Edmonton, September 17-19, 2020. Click here for more information and to register.

For this year, there have been a number of changes to how the District board operates. 

The Services portfolio has been divided into two positions, one focused on community service and the other on international service.

“Having two different directors allows the board to have equal opportunity to reflect on our support for international projects and the amazing work clubs do within their communities,” Tracey says. “It gives us double the capacity to do tremendous service work locally, as well as internationally.” 

Alexis Ksiazkiewicz (RC of Edmonton) is the Community Services Director and Al Pierog (RC of Edmonton South), the director for International Services.

“They’re a conduit to our Rotary clubs,” Tracey says. “They are knowledge centres and they are advocates. They can support clubs to partner, to work together. It could be funding. It could be travel. It could be service together.”

Another recent change was to invite Yvone Joubert (Grant MacEwan Rotaract Club) to join the board as a non-voting young leader representative.

“One of the things that was really important to me through all of my training was continuing to have a voice, and not just a voice but the expertise, the thoughts, the wisdom, the perspective of our young leaders,” Tracey says.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 9.58.52 AMYvone was one of 65 Rotaractors from around the world invited to join District Governors-Elect during their training at the Rotary International Assembly held in San Diego in January 2019.

“This highlighted to me even more the importance to be inclusive as a District. We should reflect diversity at the board table,” Tracey says. “Having Yvone there gives us another perspective.”

Another change was the creation of a Finance Committee, led by treasurer Maureen Liviniuk (RC of Edmonton Mayfield). 

This committee will “facilitate transparency, accountability, financial controls, compliance and best practices to meet Rotary International’s Code of Policies and ensure proper stewardship of our District resources,” Tracey says.

Of course, no year would be complete for a District Governor without a few challenges, which for Tracey has meant dealing with a number of resignations.

In the fall, Director of Administrative Services Donna Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast) and Youth Director Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) resigned. 

These resignations have provided an opportunity to step back and look at what is required.

“We’re in the midst of looking at what the future looks like for our District and what are the right positions to have in place to support the District.

“We asking, ‘What are these pieces of the admin that are really important to go forward? What do we need for the future?’ Same for the youth services. ‘What’s best for our District to ensure that we continue all the great work that has been started?’

“In the interim, we’ve got some good people that are providing support and resources to all the different aspects of these portfolios, while we are very focused on ensuring that when we go forward, it’s going to be with even stronger portfolios.”

The other resignation was that of office manager Rene Cavanagh after more than 11 years in the role. She left to become the community and volunteer engagement co-ordinator for Habitat for Humanity.

“We recognize the work that Rene has contributed to us. She helped us form what we are today,” Tracey says. “Rene was very instrumental in helping to build our District from all levels.”

Recruitment to fill this position began in December and Tracey expects to have hired a new office manager early in 2020.

As the second half of her term as District Governor begins, Tracey looks forward to revisiting and working with some clubs and to being with three clubs as they celebrate significant anniversaries.

“We look forward to helping the Rotary Club of The Battlefords celebrate their 100th anniversary,” Tracey says. “We also have the Rotary Club of Yellowknife that’s going to be celebrating their 50th anniversary and the Rotary Club of Edmonton South will be celebrating their 70th anniversary.”

Another highlight of 2020 will be the Integrity Awards ceremony, to be hosted by the Edmonton-area clubs on March 18. 

“We’re very excited to join and participate and to recognize the individuals at that event.”

Even though there is much still to look forward to, the lasting memories for Tracey will be the club visits.

“We have experienced some tremendous culture in all of the clubs. The clubs are very strong. We see the friendship. We see the caring. We see the drive and each club has its own identity. Each club has developed their own culture to be strong, to be exciting,” Tracey says.

“That has been a really tremendous experience, to see the variety, to see the different ways that people support each other, but to also see the ways that they come together and are very dedicated to service. That was new for me; to understand how unique each club was. 

“It has really helped me appreciate even more the work and the impact of what a Rotary club really represents.”

Rotarians from District 5370 experience the battle to eradicate polio first-hand during national immunization days

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.35.34 AMWhen assistant governor Sally Schilds (RC of Dawson Creek Sunrise) encountered young men begging in the market near where she and other volunteers had spent a day administering polio vaccine, two drops at a time, into the mouths of children, it brought home the importance of what she was doing.

Sally, her husband, 2015-16 PDG Tim (RC of Dawson Creek), their daughter, Brenna, and a friend of their daughter were part of a national immunization day in an Indian village near Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal, in January 2018.

“We were going through the market, and as we were going to our bus, we saw all of these young men lined up, sitting by the bus,” Sally says. 

“My [daughter’s] friend turned to me and said, ‘I don’t understand why they are always sitting on the ground.’ I said, ‘It’s because they had polio. They are victims of polio. That’s why we were giving those drops to those babies and those children, so they don’t end up like this.’

“She was absolutely shocked and teary-eyed because she hadn’t made that connection,” Sally says. “For her to see why we are doing it also hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, ‘That’s why we are here, to help these children not have to worry about it.’

“’I had seen the pictures and I know the facts, but to actually see it, and live through that realization by this young woman was very touching for both of us.”

National immunization days (NIDs) are supported by Rotary International, through tax deductible donations by Rotarians to the Polio Eradication campaign, and by its partners in the campaign to eradicate polio, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Rotary volunteers are responsible for their own travel and accommodation while participating in NIDs. 

Like many Rotarians who have been involved in Polio Plus, it was always the (goa)l to go and do a national immunization day,” Sally says.

The idea become a possibility when they received a letter from friends in India. “The reason we have friends in India, why we’ve met these people from India, is through youth exchange. Our very first youth exchange ‘daughter’ is living in Delhi,” Sally says.

Initially, only Sally and Tim were planning to volunteer, but then she asked her daughter if she would be interested in making India the destination of the graduation trip her parents had promised her after she completed university.

“ ‘That’s exactly what I want to do,’ she responded,” Sally says. It would be an opportunity for a family reunion with Brenna’s “big sister.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.34.57 AMFor another assistant governor, Marilyn Mucha (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue), participation began in 2011 with a telephone call from a Rotarian from Drayton Valley.

“I got a call from Mary Drader saying, ‘[2019-10 PDG] Terry doesn’t want to go, but I would like to go. Can we go together?’ I said absolutely. We did the research and went on a pre-arranged trip that was organized by a past district governor from California, who is a travel agent,” Marylin says.

For Marilyn, it was an opportunity to experience first-hand how Rotary serves people in another part of the world. “We’re separated from the work that we do internationally. Rotarians don’t get to feel the impact of what we do and see how we’ve touched the lives of people when we’re donating money,” Marilyn says.

“This provided me an opportunity to be on the ground, to be connected with children and the people of a country that needed so desperately to get this vaccine, and of course, to work towards our overall goal of eradicating polio.”

The same travel agency that arranged Marilyn and Mary’s visit is organizing another polio eradication trip, which will begin with participants arriving in Delhi on January 11. Like the one in which Marilyn and Mary participated, this trip will visit tourist sites for a few days, before participation in immunization activities near Delhi. 

“The travel arrangements were already taken care of for you. You’re also going to be connected with local Rotarians. The Rotarians there embraced us and had receptions for us,” Marilyn says.

“Of course, they wanted to show us their projects, some of which were tied to the polio, such as providing braces and corrective surgeries for polio victims.”

Click here for additional information about this trip.

While in India the polio vaccine has in the past been administered with two drops into the mouths of children, the nation is switching to injectables in its effort to ensure the country remains polio-free. This means that 2020 may the last time to be involved as these Rotarians from District 5370 were.

“The typical national immunization day protocol [begins with] a briefing with the World Health Organization and the Rotary co-ordinators,” Marilyn says.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.34.36 AMThe first day for both hers and Sally’s immunization campaign was devoted to informing the local residents about what would be happening. 

“We discovered we were going to be used mainly to spread the important message of polio immunizations,” Sally says. “One day, we took to the streets in a great big parade and walked through this poor village area. There were whistles and bells and music.”

Marilyn says, “because so many people in the area are illiterate, you have to demonstrate what it is that you’re going to be doing, with something really loud and colourful. We participated in that parade. It was huge. We all had our [Polio Plus] shirts on. There was a marching band and a banner that showed a child getting two drops.”

Click here to view a slide show of a parade in Ghaziabad, a city near New Delhi.

“The next day, we participated in what we called ‘booth duty.’ There were multiple booths set up in neighbourhoods and cities around the country,” Marilyn says. “We were participating in actual immunization, which was doing one of two things: we were either administering the drops or marking the left pinky with indelible purple ink [to show that children had been immunized].”

Parents brought their children to the immunization booth using every mode of transportation imaginable. “They came by foot, on bikes, on scooters, in cars—it was almost like a drive-through,” Marilyn says. 

“They came by the booth and we would immunize them and away they went. It was very fast, very efficient.”

Personnel from the World Health Organization were present at each location. “They were the ones in change of the vaccine and they were tracking how many people were immunized,” Marilyn says.

That day, the immunization activity was interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.35.12 AM“In India, cows are sacred. You can’t disturb them. So if they sit in the middle of the road, you drive around it,” Marilyn says. “A bull decided he was going to go through our tent, which was very dramatic to say the least. We all cleared away and let him pass through. Then we continued with what we were doing.”

Tim and Sally were paired with two Dutch women on the day they were to immunize children. “We met very, very early in the morning and we were all given our gear—the hats, the vests, the toys,” Sally says. “Then we were all put in the little tuk-tuks with our interpreter and taken away to a small, little brick schoolhouse. 

“I would like to say it was an abandoned schoolhouse, but unfortunately it was not. All around us was extreme poverty, absolutely extreme poverty,” she says.

They were joined at the school by a nurse practitioner. “She did a baby clinic and gave the polio vaccine by needle to the babies and the rest of us were there with our interpreter to do the drops.”

Some children were familiar with the process, having received the drop several times before. “In India, in some vaccination areas, they have to have the drops about 12 times for it to be strong enough,” Sally says. “Some of the little kids who came stood there like birds and opened their mouths and we gave them the drops and then we gave them a little toy—a ball or whistle.”


The rear window of DG Tracey Vavrek’s Toyota Highlander, which is nicknamed Amelia Kind Heart, features a photo of Sally Schilds administering polio vaccine drops during a national immunization day in India

For other children, the experience wasn’t like what’s illustrated on the posters promoting polio eradication—all those little babies, with their mouths open wide, looking up adoringly at the volunteers.

“As you can imagine, lot of children were really afraid of us,” says Sally. “The Dutch women were these tall, blonde women. Then you’ve got Tim with his burly moustache and you’ve got me with my white hair and glasses. They were excited to see us, but also terrified. I would say it was half and half—children looking up at us adorably and being very proud to get their drops, and others who were absolutely terrified to get their drops.”

After that day at the school, Sally and Tim’s polio immunization experience was over, but for Marilyn, there was one more day. “This day was for me the most impactful because this is when we went out to the slums. These were people who did not come to the booth for whatever reason.”

The people living in this area tended to be transient and living in what Marilyn describes as filthy conditions. Nevertheless, “the children seemed happy, but they were playing in the mud, with snakes and everything else roaming around.”

She was impressed by the local organization, which worked with the World Health Organization. “They had schematics of the settlement and were able to tell who lived in which tent and if they had been immunized. We went to each of those dwellings and immunized the children and it was documented.”

The visit to slum involved more than immunizations. “We were told we would be visiting a project and we brought clothes and school supplies, like pencils and pens. We delivered those to that particular slum,” Marilyn says.

Having been part of national immunization day has changed what Marylin does when she travels to other countries. Before the Indian immunization trip, she would always buy jewelry for herself to remember where she had been.

“When I saw the conditions that these people were living in, I then and there stopped my tradition of buying a piece of jewelry from my travel destination,” she says. “I rationalized this by asking myself, ‘How many people could I immunize for that same amount of money?’ I realized that material things and baubles are really of so little value at the end of the day, when the money can be used in a different way.”

Of her national immunization day experience, Sally says, “there’s a sense of accomplishment, but it is more than that. It’s making us feel that we are really part of humanity. We really have done something. It seems simple, just two little drops, but you feel like you are part of the team. It can be quite overwhelming.

“I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to take it and go on a national immunization day. If you don’t have that opportunity, still be part of the team and donate to Polio Plus.” 

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 2.46.22 PM

Belizean women learn to sew, form a co-operative to generate much-needed income

IMG_1917It’s women like Anna who motivate Lora Lee Peaslee (RC of Edmonton Riverview) to return to Belize to teach impoverished women to sew.

“These women have no means of earning income,” Lora Lee says. “If they had sewing machines and learned sewing skills, they could generate some income.”

In November, Lora Lee returned to Belize for the third time, which is when she met Anna, a 31-year-old single mother of four.

Lora Lee’s first visit to Belize was part of a club project in 2016 to refurbish a school in Gales Point, a small community located about 30 kilometres from Belize City.

“We had received a donation of 15 used sewing machines and someone asked if I was interested in teaching women how to sew,” she says.

The first day, 12 women showed up for the class; the next day, 20. By the end of the week, there were 30.

Working with used machines proved frustrating. They stopped working and needed to be repaired. “By taking parts from other machines, we were able to get 10 machines that we could use,” Lora Lee says. “We decided it would be better if we had new machines.”

Beginning with $5,000 from the club’s casino fund, Lora Lee was able to raise $14,000 for her next visit to Belize, through a crowdfunding campaign, a fundraising event (“Shake it for Belize”) and donations from individual Rotarians and family members.

This money was used to purchase 16 new sewing machines and fabric before she, another Rotarian and two members of Lora Lee’s family left in April 2019 for a second project, this time in Sandhill. 

About 20 women attended those classes, including a woman who came from Belize City, about 85 km away.

“Every day, Marielee asked if I could come to Belize City,” Lora Lee says. “I said yes, but I didn’t know when.”

This third project was possible sooner than expected, because the Sandhill project had only used $8,000 of the $14,000 that had been raised.

IMG_1920“OK, I decided I could do another project,” Lora Lee says.

She had left 10 sewing machines in Sandhill and the other six with Marielee, who was responsible for organizing a co-operative in Belize City and finding a space for the classes which could also be used later by the co-operative.

“She arranged for a rental property that the co-operative could use for two years, if we completed needed repairs,” Lora Lee says. “But that deal fell through, which I didn’t know until I arrived in Belize.”

Luckily, Marielee was able to arrange the use of a sports centre for the sewing classes, where the machines could be locked away at night, but that only provided space for the sewing classes and didn’t contribute to the project becoming a sustainable venture for the co-op.

“There was no use teaching them to sew if they didn’t have a place to sew afterwards,” Lora Lee says.

Fortunately, in anticipation of needing to conduct repairs at the original location, Lora Lee had asked her brother from Winnipeg to pack up his tools and join her in Belize.

“He decided to build a new building,” she says. “He priced out what this would cost, and he found the cost was similar to what was budgeted for the repairs.”

With the assistance of helpers that Marielee recruited, he was able to erect an 18 x 24- foot building, with a concrete floor, within a week.

“They started Friday, and we were able to move in by Thursday,” Lora Lee says. “It’s just a shell, but that used up all the money we had. It still needs to be finished inside and needs to be wired. They are using extension cords for the sewing machines.”

Eleven women, ranging in age from a 17-year-old to seniors, attended the class that Lora Lee and a former member of the club taught.

“One woman was working three jobs to support her family, but she still came to class every day,” Lora Lee says. “She was there because she wanted to learn.”

But the woman whose story most moved Lora Lee was Anna.

“She is an amazing woman, who has faced for many obstacles,” Lora Lee says. “If she had a chance, she would go far.”

When Anna was 13, her mother sold everything in the house and moved to the United States with her other daughter, leaving Anna alone in the house.

She was forced to beg for food. An aunt, who was supposed to keep an eye on Anna, only stopped by occasionally.

A year later, the mother and Anna’s new stepfather returned to Belize.

“The stepfather raped Anna repeatedly,” Lora Lee says. “When she told her mother, she didn’t believe her, so Anna ran away to live with a grandmother.”

When the grandmother died a few years later, Anna was back on the streets. At 19, she had her first child.

“After her first child was born, Anna wanted her tubes tied, but the doctor refused,” Lora Lee says. Since then, she and her partner have had three more children.

Anna now lives with her children in a shack, with a roof that leaks and a door that can’t be locked.

“She doesn’t sleep well, because she is so worried about the safety of her children because the shack is not secure,” Lora Lee says.

Occasionally, she finds work in the hospitality industry to earn money to buy groceries and pay her children’s school fees, but she is only able to work occasionally because she lacks child care.

When she heard about the Rotary sewing project, Anna was determined to participate.

“She was there every day, even though she had to walk five km each day to attend class,” Lora Lee says. “One day, she brought her three-year-old son with her, who also walked the five km.”

When Lora Lee gave her money to take the bus, Anna gave the money to her children so they could take the bus to school and she still walked to class.

Anna proved to be a quick learner. “In the time it took others to complete one item, Anna made two,” Lora Lee says. “She was also able to help others when they encountered problems with their sewing machines.”

During their introductory sewing classes, the women learned to make drawstring bags, shopping bags with handles, curtains, skirts and sundresses. 

Recently, they set up a table on a street near a bank to sell what they had made. Once they have enough inventory, they will rent a booth near where cruise ships dock, where they hope to sell to tourists visiting Belize City.

“The co-op will use some of the money to purchase material and distribute the profits to members, based on how much time they spent sewing the merchandise,” Lora Lee says. “You need to participate to share in the profits.”

When the Rotary team’s visit was nearing an end, the Belizean women asked, “When are you coming back?”

It’s something that Lora Lee hopes to do. “It would be nice to go back to take them to the next level,” she says.

Eventually members of the co-op hope to be able to sew school uniforms and scrubs for staff in local medical facilities.

“I hope that other Rotarians who know how to sew will join us the next time we go to Belize,” Lora Lee says. 

If you are interested in visiting Belize to teach sewing or with to donate to the project (fabric, sewing supplies, etc.), email Lora Lee at

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview meets Tuesday mornings at 7:15 at the Chateau Nova Hotel, 159 Airport Road NW. 

“Santa’s Elves” from Edmonton Southeast take underprivileged children shopping and for breakfast


Students and Rotarians outside the Old Navy store in South Edmonton Common

For some of the students from two schools in Mill Woods, the visit to the Old Navy store in South Edmonton Common organized by “Santa’s Elves” from the Rotary Club of Edmonton Southeast was a day filled with new experiences.

“For some of the 34 children who participated, it was the first time they got to shop on their own,” says Rotarian Victoria Ewert.

The Rotarians provided a $100 Old Navy gift card for each student “and Old Navy gave us a 50 per cent discount on purchases, so it was more like $200,” Victoria says. “They had one hour to go around and choose the clothing they want wanted. Then they went to the till and paid with the gift card.”

The club approached the principals of John Paul I and Greenview schools to ask them to select some of their most impoverished students to participate in the Santa’s Elves project. Many of the students come from immigrant or refugee families.

To pay for this project, the club held a 50/50 draw in August and September. “We indicated that $1,250 would go to Santa Elves and $1,250 would go to Project Amigo,” Victoria says. “The rest came from the casino money.”


Children participating in the Santa Elves program began their day with breakfast hosted by IHOP

The day began for the children when their parents dropped them off in at the Rainbow Daycare, which is owned by a member of the Edmonton Southeast club. There they boarded the daycare’s bus, which the owner’s husband volunteered to drive.

Once aboard the bus, the students were driven to the IHOP restaurant on Ellerslie Road, where they met the Rotarians for breakfast.

“IHOP provided a free breakfast for all of us. The owner of all the IHOP restaurants in Edmonton is a friend and a client of mine,” says Victoria, who is a registered Canadian immigration consultant. “I helped him set up the first IHOP in Edmonton eight years ago. Now he owns eight IHOPs across Alberta.”

For some children, eating in a restaurant was a new experience. “These kids had never been to a restaurant and some didn’t know what a pancake was.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 8.54.00 AMAlso in the restaurant that morning were owners of IHOP restaurants from across Canada, who were touring restaurants in Edmonton and Calgary. “They asked, ‘What’s going on?’ because all of a sudden, IHOP had to close half the restaurant for us,” says Victoria. 

This offered an opportunity for Victoria to educate them about Rotary and the Santa’s  Elves project. “They said, ‘Oh, we could do this.’”

Following breakfast, the children and the Rotarians boarded the bus for South Edmonton Common. Because some of the children hadn’t been there before, the Rotarians took them on a bus tour of the shopping area before heading to Old Navy. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 8.54.42 AMAfter making their purchases, the bus took the children back to the daycare parking lot where their parents met them.

Fifteen Rotarians and five spouses participated in the project. “We always want to make sure that for every two kids there is one volunteer to assist them,” Victoria says.

She says the Rotarians find the project very rewarding. “The members like it because it’s hands-on.” 

Through their involvement, club members come to understand the need in their community. “They get to understand that in Canada, although we are a rich country, there are so many underprivileged children, in our area especially.”

Given the need in the area, the club chooses to focus its projects on the Mill Woods area.

“Our Thanksgiving dinner is getting bigger and bigger,” Victoria says referring to the community meal the club has hosted for several years for disadvantaged persons from the Mill Woods area, in partnership with the Millbourne Laundromat. 

At June’s changeover event, the club received a Gilbert Patterson Award for this project, which serves meals to more than 1,000 people. (The deadline for submissions for 2019-2020 club awards is May 15, 2020.)

The club regularly receives requests from schools and other organizations located in Mill Woods.

“Some of the schools are requesting, could you sponsor a sort of lunch or a dinner for all the parents?” Victoria says. “Another school is asking for donations for their library. They have given us a list of the books they need for their library.  We are in the process getting pre-approval from ALGC (Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission).”

Another request has come from the food bank serving Mill Woods. “The church in charge of the food bank is getting 28 to 30 families every week, asking for food,” Victoria says. “That’s why we want to focus on our projects inside our community.”

Students expressed their appreciation with thank-you cards and the principals expressed their gratitude and their wish that even more students could be involved.

The Rotarians thanked IHOP and Old Navy on posters which the businesses are able to display. “It shows their customers that the business is committed to helping the community,” Victoria says. “The posters also promote Rotary because there is a Rotary logo.”

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Southeast meets at 7 p.m. on first and third Tuesdays at the Mill Wood Seniors and Multicultural Centre, 2610 Hewes Way.