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

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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.

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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.

Edmonton Rotarian revives and donates old ambulances to to Belize, Mexico and Africa

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Ambulances waiting to be refurbished by Alberta Honda

Some people collect coins. Others fill albums with postage stamps from around the world. But not Roman Bayrock (RC of Edmonton Riverview). He collects ambulances.

So far, he has obtained 11 of these life-saving vehicles, after they have been retired by Alberta Health Services. 

Once these ambulances are refurbished, they are designated for developing countries where the need for them is great.

Assisting people in this fashion gives Roman “a rush. It’s like winning the lottery. I feel great helping people,” he says.

Roman, who describes himself as “a bit of an opportunist, with a talent for bargain hunting,” purchased his first ambulance by chance, when he discovered it listed for sale on an auction site. 

“I figured that not too many people would be interested,” he recalls. “I wondered how cheaply I could buy it.”

 But first, he contacted the Belize Emergency Response Team.

“I called BERT and asked, ‘If I could find you an ambulance cheap, would you be interested?’ They were.”

That first ambulance was shipped to Belize in 2016.

Since then, two more ambulance have gone to Belize. One went to the village of Dangriga, in the Southern Health Region, and the other to Southern Emergency Service, which was started in the Southern Health Region by a former Spruce Grove resident.

This last ambulance was delivered to Belize with the assistance of the US Air Force, through the Denton Program, which is jointly administered by several US government departments and agencies.

“The Denton program offers shipment of ‘humanitarian assistance’ in the form of utility trucks, fire trucks, ambulances, etc., to locations in North American at virtually no charge when space is available,” Roman says.

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Sandra and Roman Bayrock 

At the end of August, Roman and his wife Sandra, who is also a member of Edmonton Riverview, drove the ambulance to the Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. There the ambulance was loaded onto a C-5 Hercules transport for the flight to Belize.

Prior to departing for Montana, Roman held a media event at Alberta Honda in Edmonton, which stores and refurbishes the ambulances.

“Without Alberta Honda, we would not have a space to store these ambulances and no source for parts, tires and batteries,” Roman says.

Once Alberta Honda has refurbished the remaining ambulances, they will be shipped to other developing countries. Four will go to Belize, two to Africa and two to Mexico, as part of the Highway to Mexico program organized by the Rotary Club of  Grande Prairie-Swan City.

This convoy of ambulances, fire trucks and other vehicles will depart for Mazatlan on March 29. Members of the Edson Rotary Club, which is paying to refurbish this vehicle, will drive one ambulance on the two-week journey. Roman and Sandra will drive the second.

Two ambulances will be going to Southern Emergency Services Belize, two to the Believe in Belize Charity in Pacencia, and one each to Faith Prestige Hospital in Ghana and to Arms Across Africa for use in Uganda.

The organizations receiving ambulances are responsible for all costs associated with refurbishing and transportation of the vehicles.

Before the Riverview club releases vehicles to other groups, the potential recipients are required to complete a questionnaire developed by Dean Wood, the club’s International Services director. 

“The purpose of the questionnaire was to get the organizations to make a series of commitments and demonstrate they have the capacity to operate and maintain the vehicle to ensure they will provide a quality and sustainable service,” Dean says.

“We asked them to commit to provide services to all residents of the areas, without regard to their ability to pay,” he says. “We believe that making the service available to all reflects a core Rotary value.”

Finally, each organization was asked to demonstrate a partnership with a local Rotary club.