Vashon Rotary works to address health issues in Guatemala and Nepal

A dozen of Rotary’s most prestigious grants were given out around the world this year, and Vashon Island Rotary Club is a partner in two of the 12 projects that were approved.

The grants, called 3H grants, match the amount local Rotary clubs raise 10 to one — “the gold standard” in grants, said Sam Collins, the director of Vashon Youth & Family Services and a member of Vashon Rotary’s international committee.

The first of the two projects in which Vashon is a major partner focuses on basic health and sanitation in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, Vashon’s sister city, and the surrounding communities, which were badly hit by Hurricane Stan in 2005.

Rotary clubs from Vashon, Sarasota, Fla., and Menlo Park, Calif., collaborated to raise $30,000, and Rotary International kicked in another $300,000.

The philanthropists will spend the money — nearly a third of a $1 million — educating the Guatemalan people on proper nutrition, clean water and smoke inhalation, Collins said. The Rotarians will install water filtration systems and distribute efficient cooking stoves.

“The people are doing their cooking in open fires in their huts,” he said.

Collins said in one case, he saw an infant in a home filled with smoke from cooking, clearly breathing it in. The people simply do not know their habits are unhealthy in many cases.

Rotary members will bring a special kind of stove to the homes, which reduce smoke emissions within dwellings by 99 percent and reduce fuel consumption significantly, according to the stove’s manufacturer.

World Neighbors, a nonprofit organization, will perform much of the legwork on the ground in Guatemala, Collins said. Amazingly, when a World Neighbors board member read the grant Rotarians had written, he was so touched by their intentions that he decided to match their $330,000 budget with World Neighbor funds, doubling the impact the two groups will have in the region.

The second project that Vashon Rotary raised money for and is a partner in is an effort to assist handicapped Nepalese people. Rotary International multiplied the contributions of Vashon and Bellevue Rotary clubs by 10, for a total of $350,000.

Bellevue is the principal club on this project, said Gene Lipitz, chair of the Vashon Rotary international committee.

“It’s an unusual grant; more than anything else, it’s about the perception of handicapped people,” Lipitz said. “We’re trying to work on attitudes towards the disabled, who are regarded in large portions of the population as being cursed.”

Lipitz visited Nepal in March with his daughter Sophie on an earlier Rotary project and said he saw disabled Nepalese people in manacles in some instances.

“Some of them didn’t even know they had names,” Lipitz said.

With the help of all Rotary clubs in Nepal, members of the Bellevue Rotary club will launch advertising and speaking campaigns to educate people in Nepal and hopefully turn around their attitudes towards those who look different from them.

“We’re very proud to be part of that effort,” Lipitz said.

Vashon Rotary has ties with Nepal, having already made an impact in communities through two diverse projects recently.

Working with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Rotarians established an eye clinic to perform cataract surgery, curing Nepalese people of blindness. Researchers established that Vitamin A deficiency was the primary cause of blindness in the country and convinced the government to provide Vitamin A boosters to the people, eliminating the prevailing problem of blindness, Lipitz said.

Rotary is in the process of transferring the eye clinic to a local, independently run organization, Lipitz said.

Vashon Rotary also received a $25,000 grant this year to install water filtration systems in orphanages and schools in Nepal.

“Dirty water is the number one killer of children,” Lipitz said.

Vashon Rotary’s work is not all internationally oriented, however. In the past, the club has obtained grants that matched funds raised by the Island for various projects — to buy and install defibrillators in key locations on the Island and buy and install emergency generators in the five Vashon Island Fire & Rescue stations, said former Vashon Island Rotary Club president Rex Stratton.

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