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!”

Rotary clubs receive District awards for “Making a Difference” during 2017-18

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2017-18 District Governor presents the Governor’s Award to Dave Cook, president of the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City

Last year, clubs across our Rotary District really took the 2017-18 Rotary International theme—Making a Difference—to heart. Some of those worthwhile projects were celebrated with District awards, which were presented during the Changeover event in June.

“We know that there are many clubs with outstanding projects and programs, but unfortunately they did not submit descriptions of what they are doing, so we didn’t know about them. They might have been eligible for these awards,” says District Administration Chair Donna Nicoll.

In her role, Donna (RC of Edmonton Northeast) is responsible for gathering submissions from the clubs and assembling a committee to choose the award winners. Last year’s committee included Donna, 2017-18 District Governor Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray), a past District Governor, and two members of the District board.

The award winners included projects that provided needy children with warm clothes, encouraged tree planting in Grande Prairie, delivered fire trucks to Mexico, and promoted Rotary to the community.

In addition, then-District Governor Frank bestowed the title of Rotarian of the Year on Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue), to recognize her contributions as the District’s Youth Services Chair.

“While all members of the District board showed commitment to Rotary, Tamara’s passion for youth services really stood out,” says Frank. “She built on the work of those who went before her to make our youth services programs even stronger than she found them. 

“Tamara’s ongoing relationship with students and their parents ensures their safety and best interests remain the prime focus in the delivery of Rotary’s youth programs,” Frank says. “She works with Rotary clubs to ensure support and safety is in place to make sure the experience of students, host families and clubs are positive for all concerned.”

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2017-18 DG Frank with Rotarian of the Year Tamara Larson

A big part of Tamara’s mandate was to bring youth services practices into compliance with Rotary International requirements.

“Over the last couple of years, these changes needed to be implemented. Tamara took this on and persisted, despite some resistance to the changes,” says Frank. “I don’t know if anyone else would have had the same determination.”

Tamara and Past District Governor Laura Morie (RC of Westlock) will be co-ordinating the Rotoract component of the Zones 24 and 32 Conference in Montreal September 20-22.

Best reflection of the annual RI theme

The Governor’s Award was presented to the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City. This annual award is given to the club whose activities best reflect the RI yearly theme, which in 2017-18 was Making a Difference. 

Last year, the 119 Swan City Rotarians made a difference in all Rotary’s avenues of service, motivating more than 1,200 Rotarians and non-Rotarians to provide nearly 10,000 hours of volunteer service to continue their support of existing projects and programs.

The club also donated more than $CA 450,000 to programs, provided in-kind support worth nearly $900,000 and gave nearly $US 20,000 (more than $CA 25,000) to The Rotary Foundation.

Here are some of the ways these Rotarians made a difference in 2017-18:

  • Supported a facility to house young girls in Ethiopia so that they can continue their studies, graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education.
  • Assisted several Cambodian villages with initiatives to provide clean water, sanitary latrines, medical supplies, teachers and educational materials.
  • Partnered with the Salvation Army for a food bank drive, which collected 41 tons of food in just one day
  • Served dinners once a week to 40-100 people (including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families) at the Friendship Centre
  • Collected 2,000 toys (worth about $45,000) for the Big Toy Box program, which were distributed through 16 different organizations to children who might not have otherwise received Christmas gifts 
  • served tea and dessert to seniors during Seniors Week 

Gilbert Paterson Awards for three avenues of service

The Swan City club also received Gilbert Paterson Awards for two projects that were included in their Governors Award submission.

The Gilbert Paterson Awards are presented to clubs whose projects, activities or events best reflect one of three avenues of service: community, international and youth. 

The Youth Award, which was new for 2017-18, was presented to the Rotary Club of Edmonton West.

Gilbert Paterson, for whom the awards are named, was a Lethbridge educator, who served as governor for District 5360 in 1959-60, long before the District was divided and District 5370 was created. 

The Community Services Award recognized the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City for its longtime partnership with the Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association, the province of Alberta, the city of Grande Prairie and local forestry product companies, to promote the importance of forests and the environment, and encourage celebration of Arbour Day.

Over the years, this program has resulted in the planting of 12 groves of trees, all of which are native to the Grande Prairie area. In addition, Rotarians and foresters visit Grade 1 classrooms to teach children about trees and the environment. During these visits, each student is given a tree and is shown how to plant it.

Beginning with just one used school bus in 2002, the Highway to Mexico program, for which the Swan City club received the International Service Award, has delivered more than $18 million worth of buses, fire trucks, ambulances, and medical and firefighting equipment to Mazatlan and the Mexican state of Sinalao. 

Over the years, the Swan City club has developed partnerships with other Rotary clubs, both in Canada and in Mexico. Several cities, towns and municipalities between Red Deer and Fort McMurray have donated surplus vehicles. After the donated vehicles are restored, Rotarians drive them the 5,000 kilometres to Mexico.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton West became the first winner of the Gilbert Paterson Youth Award for its Santa Clothes program. One hundred children identified as “in need” by Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters were able to go on a shopping spree at the Old Navy store in West Edmonton Mall for warm winter coats and other clothing.

Each child received a $400 gift card, half of which was donated by Old Navy and the balance by the Edmonton West club and other sponsors. While at the mall, the children had lunch and visited some of the more popular attractions before being bused home.

Dawson Creek Sunrise wins PR and Marketing Award

Dawson CreekThe Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise received the District Public Relations and Marketing Award for its extensive marketing campaign. The award is given to the “club or group of clubs producing the best publicity brochure or marketing event/tool during the year.” 

The campaign was three-pronged, including weekly advertising in the local newspaper, developing a club brochure and a very active Facebook page, which averages about 1,000 views per week providing information about club activities and partner events.

The club brochure is shared at all public events and displayed by Rotarians in their businesses.

 Donna plans to distribute information about the 2018-19 awards to club presidents in November and request submissions by May. This year’s awards will be announced at the District changeover event at the end of June 2019.

“We know clubs are doing wonderful things,” Donna says. “We hope they will write these projects up and submit them for consideration.”

District conference Main