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International Project Has Ripple Effect
local Rotary Clubs face the same dilemma.
They want to get involved with an international project, but have a hard
time finding the right one. That was the
situation with the Elmbrook Rotary Club of District 6270 (Wisconsin) in
2010. Our president that year, an
experienced professional in the world of nonprofit operations, asked the
International Committee to find a project in another country that our members could
become personally involved in.
committee used that as the cornerstone of the search and added the RI
expectations that the project be accountable as to how money was spent and
programs operated. The third piece was
that it had to be sustainable.
intensive vetting of various organizations, four Rotarians traveled to Antigua,
Guatemala in 2011. The group quickly
learned that, as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere,
Guatemala’s needs are great and resources are scarce.
their return, the team recommended that we build an alliance with an NGO called
Common Hope. CH is based in St. Paul,
Minnesota and has been operating in the Antigua area for almost 30 years.
Common Hope’s “business model” is based on the belief that the key to climbing
out of poverty is education. The
challenge is that very few children get past the sixth grade before being put
to work in the fields or in domestic chores to help support the family. Even children as young as five years of age
are seen as economic units and kept from school in order to help the family
make ends meet.
encourage parents to keep their children in school, CH provides the necessary
school supplies and uniforms. In
addition, affiliated and cooperating "Partner Schools" have the
benefit of teacher’s aides being assigned to classrooms and other educational
material (books, supplies) provided help all students.
Hope has learned that, with improved housing, health care, and social welfare
aid, it is more likely that school attendance will be possible, and so the
program focus is in those areas.
Families of the affiliated students receive low-cost (in some cases
no-cost) medical and dental care. There
is a day-care center for working mothers and classes intended to enhance the
quality of family life. Headquartered at
a former coffee plantation and locally known as Familias de Esperanza (Families of Hope), the organization provides
enrichment classes and other activities to help students reach the lofty goal
of a high school education. Home visits are done regularly to make sure that
problems are solved before they detract from the ability of children to attend
can earn a new home by putting in volunteer hours as “sweat equity” on Common
Hope projects. The homes are two-room
structures measuring 12-by-24 feet on concrete floors. They are very simple, but a huge step up from
dwellings that often have corn-shuck or cardboard walls and leaky roofs.
dedicated in-country staff, mostly Guatemalans, conducts the various programs
at the headquarters site and satellite installations. The Partner School promoters are constantly
at each of the seven schools in the program making sure best educational
practices are being followed and that steady improvement is being made. This elevates the quality of the schools far
beyond what characterizes unaffiliated schools.
the U.S., the Common Hope staff provides the fund-raising, oversight and other
activities that connect U.S. organizations and individuals with the Guatemalans
being helped. Service clubs, churches
and businesses are encouraged to send “Vision Teams” for a week of work and
cultural immersion in Antigua. In 2012,
our club sent its first Vision Team of a dozen people (including two from
another club in our district). Each year
since, the clubs have sent Vision Teams (actually two teams in 2016). One of our members was so impressed with the
quality of the Common Hope program that she organizes Vision Teams from her
church. Another visiting Rotarian became so enthusiastic that she has organized
a Vision Team in her own club and is involving high school Interact
members. Vision Team members step into a
very well-organized template of service, making it easy for each team to be
immediately productive and useful in advancing the positive impact on families
week-long trips are organized all year, but Elmbrook Rotarians have traveled in
February or early March. The high
altitude with mild weather combine to create a welcome break from Wisconsin
winters. Depending on the organization’s
needs that week, the team may assemble wall panels for a home, work in
affiliated schools, erect a new home or help with other activities needed to
keep Familias de Esperanza operating.
Everyone has the opportunity to accompany social workers to visit
business and professional people, Rotarians often want to know “the
numbers”. Here they are:
late 2016, Common Hope is working with 11,000 children in 26 locations.
2017, the Elmbrook, Waukesha Sunrise, Mukwonago, and Port Washington-Saukville
Rotary Clubs will have sent 53 individuals as part of Vision Teams. Some Rotarians have been multiple times, for
a total of 87 people working on the project.
Individuals in these clubs have personally contributed more than
$135,000 to Common Hope programs.
of sending a Vision Team is $4,000 as a "fund raising"
component. Each individual pays $800 for
housing, meals, in-country transportation, and translation services, plus the
cost of air fare to Guatemala.
2012, our club has sent $21,000 to Common Hope, supplemented by another $12,000
in District Grants and yet another $3,200 in private donations (much of the
money has been used for textbooks and teaching materials).
in discussions with the local Rotary Club in Antigua to work toward a Global
Grant, which would be at least $30,000.
measure of Common Hope’s accountability, it enjoys a Four Star rating from
Charity Navigator, the watchdog organization that assesses the governance
practices of charities. Only 3% of
organizations receive that top rating.
mentioned that some people have been to Antigua more than once. While it’s true that the climate is wonderful
and Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s nice to avoid shoveling
snow for a week, the real draw for us is the children. Simply put:
they are beautiful. Moreover,
they are so happy and grateful that someone in a faraway place cares about
the 53 people (Rotarians, spouses, family members, and friends) who’ve been on
our Vision Teams have come home with more than just the satisfaction of
“Service Above Self”. Although there is
never any pressure from Common Hope, many Vision Team members have become
sponsors or co-sponsors of individual children.
Sponsorship provides a student with all the materials needed for school,
access to healthcare, social worker aid, and improved housing for those who
earn it, thus ensuring that a sponsored child has all the elements in place to
be successful in school.
our Vision Team experience, we get to spend time with “our” kids in their
homes. On those home visits, we can also
thank the parents for the financial sacrifices they have made to keep their
children in school rather than putting them to work. Then, throughout the year, we exchange
letters with our sponsored children so we can encourage them to study hard and
finish high school.
Elmbrook Rotary Club started looking for an international project, we never
dreamed that this one would become such an integral part of what we do. Along with our other international projects
and programs serving the local community, our Guatemala connection has helped
the club grow to about 80 members. Many
newer Rotarians comment that they were attracted to our club by the breadth of
our service programs and the opportunities to become personally involved.
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by: Erik Moeser and Tom Curl of the Elmbrook Rotary Club
- Photo of the Moesers and Lucy, Common Hope
- The opinions expressed in
this Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub
One and its editorial staff .