Maple Ridge students give back in Guatemala

Grade 12 students Devin Smith and Susannah Remfry part of group
helping make life easier for villagers

Maple Ridge Secondary Grade 11 students Devin Smith

Maple Ridge Secondary Grade 11 students Devin Smith

There are many things Canadians take for granted on an everyday basis. While clean drinking water and a roof over our heads may be chief among them, so to is having the ability to cook our own food on a stove.

In the remote village of Chiblac Palmira, Guatemala, such modern conveniences don’t exist. Villagers cook their food over open indoor pits, which in addition to being a fire hazard, are unsafe for the many rambunctious children and responsible for a host of respiratory ailments.

However, thanks to a pair Maple Ridge Secondary School 12th graders and the Haney Rotary Club, that will soon change.

The local chapter is taking part in Rotary International’s Youth Experiencing Service Program, by sponsoring students Devin Smith and Susannah Remfry to travel to the Central American country, where they will help bring safe heat and cooking to the people of Chiblac Palmira.

Smith and Remfry are part of a seven-student-contingent who will be installing 75 high efficiency stove kits for the families in the remote village. The stoves are properly vented out of the small shacks the villagers live in, use much less wood for cooking and heating, and have been specifically designed for use in the remote regions of Guatemala.

“The people basically live in huts with no ventilation,” says Smith. “This is going to make their lives a lot safer and healthier.”

The stoves cost $200 each, and are manufactured in Guatemala, so the money stays locally.

Remfry says the opportunity to experience a foreign culture while helping to alleviate the burdens of poverty attracted her to the program.

“It sounded exotic, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some good, while travelling,” she says. “I’d like to gain some insight into what their culture is like, and see what life is like outside of Maple Ridge.”

Both Remfry and Smith have been studying Spanish for the past two years. Smith went to Mexico as an exchange student last year, and is looking forward to returning to Central America.

“When you are immersed in a culture like that, you get to experience it on a whole different level,” Smith says. “I think I’ll be a lot more prepared this time.”

To be eligible for the for program, both girls had to have completed more 80 hours of volunteering in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Remfry is a volunteer swim instructor at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, and works with the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association.

Smith, meanwhile, has been a volunteer at the Maple Ridge Hospice Society’s thrift store for the past two years, as well as at Royal Crescent Gardens seniors’ home, where she helps with the bingo nights.

Smith says she is taking part in the trip because she wants to help people outside of her community for a change.

“It’s a lot different than here,” she says. “We get to help out the less fortunate, and really make a difference.”

Smith says the group will also be bringing jump ropes and soccer balls for the children of the village.

The Haney Rotary Club and its members have contributed close to $2,000 for the pair to take part in the program, with Smith and Remfry raising the rest through bottle drives.

“It is rewarding to listen to the students share their stories of experience after their countless hours of local volunteerism.” says Haney Rotary Club president Keesha Rosario. “We are excited to see how much more of an impact will be made on these students after an international service trip, not only for the families of Guatemala but on the families and friends of these students once they return.”