A group of 6 from Alexandria joined forces with fellow Rotarians and friends from Buffalo, Blaine, Fort Meyers, Florida, and San Diego, California on a service trip to Guatemala. We stayed in the city of Antigua, which features beautiful Spanish architecture and historic colonial churches. In the surroundings stand the volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango.  Fuego is frequently active.

 

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Common Hope

The group stayed in the southern part of the city at Common Hope, a non-profit focused on improving education, healthcare, housing, and family development for residents in the Antigua Valley. Education is the organization’s primary focus with graduation rates for junior high school and high school at 32% and 17%, respectively. The sponsorship program has made significant impact in this area.  Over 3,000 students receiving financial assistance has increased the odds of graduating for sponsored students by 56%. In addition, Common Hope has education promoters who work with classrooms to help cultivate effective classroom management, provide tutoring, support small group work, and fill in as substitute teachers.

To tackle healthcare, Common Hope has built an onsite clinic that helps with basic curative and preventive care to affiliated families. Also, support is provided to the clinics in San Rafael and San Miguel Milpas Altas and at the school New Hope.

 

To address living conditions, the Housing Program allows families to earn a new home that is easily constructed and can be moved in a short time period. The ability to move a home is paramount as many families are squatting on land and are at risk of having a permanent domicile seized by property owners. The pilot houses include a cement floor to help prevent parasite problems and properly vented stoves to reduce respiratory issues, which are commonly seen from cooking over open fires in the kitchen.

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As Green As It Gets

As Green As It Gets has empowered a group of farmers and artisans though new technology, loans, and networking. The program started by establishing a co-op of coffee farmers to address to low sales prices which could sometimes be as low as $0.10 per pound of green coffee beans. The NGO has acquired an export license, provided technology to increase the efficiency of shelling coffee berries, and provided loans to purchase more land, which has dramatically improved the sales figures for the farmers.

 

The program has not only expanded within the farming community, but has also added artisans. Visitors can book workshops for iron work, woodworking, natural cosmetics, textiles, Pepian cooking, and jade jewelry building. The workshops are a great way to experience the trades first hand and help support the local artisans.

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Wakami Villages

In the traditional Guatemalan family, the husband goes to work while the wife stays at home and raises the kids. For women, this has created a cultural barrier for gaining employment. Wakami is aiming to provide these women with an opportunity to build career in the jewelry business. The main product is hand crafted bracelets that are exported to the other countries, like the US.

 

The added income helps the participants and their families in four aspects: better family conditions, improved living conditions, more land, and a stronger community.  The program monitors height and weight of children and school attendance as indicators of family conditions. To improve living conditions, water filters, stoves, solar energy kits, and rain barrels are made available for homes. Along the same lines, the program helps participants to cultivate organic gardens and manage waste and recycling. All of these initiatives set good examples for the community and help open lines of communications for suggestions.

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El Amor De Patricia

International adoption from Guatemala was commonplace until 2008. It was ceased based on on reports of corruption and lack of transparency. Unfortunately, this reform put a lot of pressure on the need for domestic adoption. El Amor De Patricia has provided a sanctuary for abandoned, abused, and neglected children that might have otherwise been adopted abroad.

 

The orphanage provides healthy food, medical care, and a well-rounded education for upwards of 30 kids at any one time. The facility has a large yard for play time and a separate nanny’s quarters for full-time caretakers. El Amor De Patricia is truly a great environment for these kids to transition into a new life.

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Escuintla Regional Hospital

Despite a lower budget, the hospital in Escuintla handles for more patients, many of whom are high risk, per month than private hospitals. They treat approximately 2,500 babies per month, 30-40 births a day, and 2,000 adult patients per month. Approximately 80% of these patients cannot afford healthcare and a lot of the equipment that is used to treat patients is rented (e.g. ventilators). Medical equipment is susceptible to lightning strikes (e.g. a storm recently knocked out a CT scanner) and power loss. In the event of power outage, the sole generator must be prioritized to essential equipment only. Most rooms do not have climate control, even during the hottest months, which can lead to additional health and equipment problems.

 

It easy to see how financial and operational strain due to patient load, equipment problems, and a lack of funding can add up for this hospital. The Buffalo Rotary Club has undertaken the hospital as project. They plan to send a shipping container down to Guatemala as they have received a tax exemption until the end of 2014. Expired supplies that might otherwise be discarded in the US are being packed into the container along with new equipment, which will help lower rental costs. Also, a year’s supply of antibacterial gel is being included to help set up hand-cleaning stations within the hospital; the spread of infection is a common problem. One container at a time, Rotary is helping to provide support to the hospital.

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