Cutting a cheque for a charity is a noble deed, and appreciated by those in receipt. But building a new school with your own hands, for a poor village, can be a life-changing experience.
That’s what members of the Meadow Ridge Rotary Club – no strangers to donations and community service – found as they took the latter approach in the Nicaraguan village of Jiquillio last year. They can’t wait to get back there in early 2015.
Last year, they built two kitchens for two schools in the village of 1,500. The idea is not just to feed hungry kids a big soup lunch every day, but also to get them to attend school, so they can lift themselves out of poverty.
“Most of the kids come to school – if they come to school at all – without any food,” said Ineke Boekhorst, Rotarian and executive director of the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association. “So food is an enticement.”
Simple things, like a measuring tape or a level, were nowhere to be found. They had to guess and improvise.
“But at the end of it, we had two kitchens completely built.”
The local people were willing helpers, and the Rotarians were surprised to find that even the kids wanted to get involved. These aren’t kids who walk around with headphones on, texting their friends, or playing Clash of the Clans on a device. These kids are more likely to cut down a coconut, and sit and drink from it with a Rotarian.
“The kids are so adorable,” said Cindy Boileau, who was also part of the local delegation. “The kids come running to help – wondering what they can do.”
Her business, Boileau Christmas tree farms, donated 100 trees, which sold for approximately $30 apiece, to help fund the Rotary initiative.
Another humanitarian group built a vocational school using improvised building materials – two litre pop bottles filled with sand.
It might make Maple Ridge building inspector Stephen Cote-Rolvink cringe, but Boekhorst said the stacked bottles can be used to create a surprisingly sound structure.
The sand-bottles are piled up to create exterior walls, and then cement is applied to the outside. As it dries, it shrinks into the contours in the star-shaped bottom of the bottles.
“It works fantastic,” said Boekhorst. “You have this whole wall of stars, and it’s very, very strong – and it’s what they have.”
Using this building material, a vocational school with four classrooms has been constructed.
Now interior walls need to be built, shelves put up, and the North Americans will take a trip into a larger city to buy equipment for the school. There are six Rotary clubs partnered in the project. If their funds are matched by Rotary International, they should have $60,000 to put into the vocational school this year. Eventually it will offer computer training and sewing. As well, a community garden will teach agricultural skills.
“It will teach them skills that they can use, and earn some money with,” said Boekhorst.
She knows the people of Jiquillio will put it to good use.
“They don’t have very much, but they’re so proud of what they’ve got.”
A small example of that was some colorful elastic bracelets brought by Jana Fuller and her daughter Kira, which soon became the local fashion.
“Everyone was walking around with these bracelets – boys girls, older people – they all thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.”
The Rotarians got a taste of life in the fishing village. The men go out on the ocean at night in small vessels crowded by a crew of four. The women and children help them launch their small boats.
“In the morning, they come back and the fish they have will feed their families, and the rest they sell in the street.”
“It’s a completely different life than we’re used to,” said Boekhorst.
Helping in the way that the Rotary club is, they can see how they are making a difference.
“If you go, hands on, and see what happens with your money, and the kids sit with you and want you to read to them like your own kids … it tugs at your heart strings,” said Boekhorst.
“It sits with you for the rest of your life. I want to go back and help, and to make sure they’re alright,” she added.
“We had a great time – it was as much fun as it was work,” said Boileau. “It was an amazing experience that I’m very grateful for.”
The Rotary Club plans to return members to Nicaragua in March.