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. 

Inspired to action: District awards celebrate what clubs and Rotarians accomplished in 2018-2019


2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch and Rotarian-of-the-year recipient Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West)

So much was accomplished by clubs in our District during 2018-2019 that the committee that reviewed submissions felt it had to increase the number of awards in most award categories.

“Because there was such a difference in certain categories, we decided to recognize more than one project in these categories,” says Donna Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast), who as the Administrative Services chair assembled a board committee to decide which clubs would receive awards.

“It wasn’t a case of picking a winner,” Donna says of the committee’s deliberations. “Rather it was a case of recognizing outstanding work in certain areas.”

During the Changeover event held on June 27, 2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) presented awards to 11 clubs and several individuals who demonstrated their commitment to “Be the Inspiration.”

She also announced that the District was the recipient of a North American award for its youth programs.

Community, international and youth service awards

Multiple Gilbert Patterson Awards were presented in three service categories—community, international and youth.

Gilbert Paterson was a Lethbridge educator who served as governor for District 536 in 1959-60, long before the District was divided and District 5370 was created. 

The Rotary Clubs of Edmonton Southeast and Fort St. John received awards for their community service projects.

For several years, Edmonton Southeast has partnered with the Millbourne Laundromat to host a community Thanksgiving luncheon for disadvantaged persons from Edmonton’s Mill Woods area. This annual event now feeds more than 1,000 each year. 

The Mother’s Day Run, which the Fort St. John club initiated in 2012, has raised more than $78,500 in donations for the Women’s Resource Society. The Society provides crisis planning, housing support, an outreach store, and healing and advocacy support to empower women and girls with tools to improve the quality of their lives.

Both international service awards went to projects that were described in Rotary District 5370 News articles during 2018-2019.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.56 PMFor more than 20 years, a team of Rotarians from Edmonton West and others have visited remote Guatemalan communities to conduct eye examinations, provide glasses and medication for eye infections.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview acquires and refurbishes ambulances retired from service by Alberta Health Services, which are  destined for communities in Belize, Mexico, Uganda and Ghana. During 2018-2019, two of these vehicles were part of the Highway to Mexico convoy organized by Rotary clubs in Grande Prairie.

Youth services awards were presented to the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton South and Edmonton Northeast.

The flute making program at Abbott School, supported by Edmonton Northeast, is a way to help children improve their concentration, patience, self-confidence and co-ordination. The club pays for the materials and Rotarians assist the students as they decorate their instruments.

Rotarians from Edmonton South supported the Alberta Future Leaders program for Indigenous youth in Driftpile First Nation in Northwest Alberta. The AFL program engages youth through sports, art, recreation, leadership and cultural activities.

Peacebuilder award went to Dawson Creek Sunrise

Ingrid, who launched the successful initiative to have our District become a Rotary Peacebuilder District in 2018-2019, presented a Peacebuilder award to the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise, which was “involved in the development and promotion of peace building activities with high school students in their community,” Ingrid said.

Club president Michelle Rolls and District Youth Chair Tamara Larson accompanied a group of 17 students to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to participate in a week-long national pilot program.

Three clubs were recognized for their efforts related to public relations and marketing.

The Rotary Club of St. Albert produced brochures, posters and videos to publicize, “what Rotary is all about and what we do in the community.” The club feels their public relations and marketing has had tangible results, including membership growth and increased community involvement in fundraising and other activities.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue produced a brochure and used social media to share success stories, promote events and increase the visibility of Rotary. The club also produced a number of videos to create awareness of activities and promote events.

During 2018-2019, the Rotary Club of Edmonton Glenora undertook a comprehensive strategic planning initiative to study how they were living out the club’s vision and the mission of their club. They asked themselves what was distinctive about the club and what could they do to remain relevant. This process led to refreshing the club’s vision, mission statement and value proposition.

Rotary Club of Edmonton received Governors Award

T1819EN_RGBOne submission stood out as being deserving of the Governor’s Award. In 2013, the Rotary Club of Edmonton embarked on a major multi-year Humanitarian International Project in partnership with Literacy Without Borders and the Rotary Club of Belize. The South Belize City Literacy Development Program focused on transforming the educational and school-community infrastructure in an impoverished area known as South Belize City.

Ingrid also announced that our District had received an award from the North American Youth Exchange Network. The NAYEN awards recognizes, “districts that participate enthusiastically, conduct activities that are best practices and strive to build strong programs in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.”

Youth Service Chair Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) accepted the award on the District’s behalf.

Awards recognizing individual service

A number of special awards were presented to individual Rotarians.

Two longtime Rotarians from District 5370 were among 16 recipients worldwide of the Polio Plus Pioneer Awards, which recognizes Rotarians who made a significant non-financial contribution to Polio Plus prior to 1992.

Albert Miller and Walter Sczebel, honorary members of the Rotary Clubs of Westlock and Morinville respectively, were recognized for having increased the awareness of Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio by organizing a journey by wagon train from Westlock to the 1988 District 536 Conference in Calgary. Both were members of the Westlock club at the time.

The two covered wagons, which were accompanied by outriders, cooks, support personal, and an iron lung on a flatbed, stopped at community halls and schools to raise awareness of the polio eradication program.

Along the way, the convoy raised more than a million dollars for Polio Plus.

Four Rotarians, who Ingrid described as “working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the District runs smoothly,” each were presented with a Paul Harris Fellowship:

  • For the last six years, Carl Clayton (RC of Edmonton Northeast) has served as District Board Secretary, which involves keeping accurate minutes and chairing business meeting at the District’s Special General Assemblies.
  • For several years, Rob Dunseith (RC of Edmonton West) has “provided free service on legal matters, resulting in savings of thousands of dollars,” Ingrid said.
  • John Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast) was instrumental in helping with the move of the District office from the Boys and Girls Club to The Orange Hub.
  • Donna Nichol, as the District’s Administration Director, was responsible in planning the office move.

Award recognized success of club co-presidency

Woman of Inspiration awards were presented to two Rotarians who served as co-presidents of their clubs. While other clubs may have had co-presidents in the past, Jillene Lakevold and Alyssa Haunholter (RC of Edmonton Glenora) took “the co-presidency to a whole new level,” Ingrid said.

“They have led their club into Strategic Planning that has confirmed the mission of their club and provided a clear path moving forward, all while raising young children and pursuing their careers!”

Ingrid recognized two Past District Governors, “who have not gone into retirement from Rotary” with Outstanding Service to the District Awards.

Since being District Governors in 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 respectively, both Jackie Hobal (RC of Edmonton West) and Linda Robertson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) “have been mentors to many of our leaders and continued to be active supporters of our District programs and events, serving on the Board and on several committees,” Ingrid said.

“In addition to their exemplary service to our District, both have served as Zone Co-ordinators, working with Rotarians from 16 or 17 other Districts across our country.”

Wayne Kauffman (RC of Edmonton Riverview), who stepped down at the end of June after four years as chair of the District’s Rotary Foundation committee, was presented with a Rotary Foundation District Service Award.

“Most Foundation chairs serve a three-year term, but I persuaded Wayne to serve an extra year,” Ingrid said. “He has provided exemplary service and leadership as chair, ensuring that our District meets and exceeds RI requirements for Foundation work.”

The final award of year was presented to Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West) as the 2018-2019 Rotarian-of-the-Year.

“The individual that I have chosen to receive this special award is someone who has committed the last three years to serving and working in important roles in our District, culminating in a special event this year,” Ingrid said. “He has served as Club President, Club Foundation Chair, Assistant Governor and District Conference Chair.”

The deadline for submissions for 2019-2020 club awards is May 15, 2020.

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


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.


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.