Iowa MOST educational outreach Iowa MOST has always done some type of educational outreach within the surrounding community of Huehuetenango, but over the past three or four years this has grown. There are a number of reasons why outreach is an important aspect of the annual mission: it helps build relationships within the community, it supports projects that local Rotarians are doing, it contributes to the public face of the mission and of Rotary, it gives the members of the mission team an opportunity to connect with people outside the hospital setting and to learn more about the culture, history, and geography of the area, it provides much-needed resources to small communities which are enthusiastic partners and--last but not least--it's a fun and worthwhile way to spend time with kids, teachers and parents!
Several smaller groups of the Iowa MOST team did outreach during the week, and then the day after surgeries were finished, the majority of the team was able to go on an outreach trip. This was an opportunity for the medical members of the team, especially, to participate outside the operating theater and the confines of the hospital.
The focus of the outreach in 2017 was to provide fluoride treatments, teach kids about the value of brushing our teeth regularly (taught through song) as well as provide some other school materials such as chalkboards and chalk, crayons, pens and pencils.
I had the opportunity to go up in a small group with David Ramos, a member of the Club Rotario de Huehuetenango. In David's Rotary Club of nineteen members, nearly every member of the club has a project--it's a very active club--and David's project is La Escuela de las Nubes, or School of the Clouds. David drove us up to the school in his 4WD truck on a road which switch-backed up the side of the mountain and which can be a treacherous road during the rainy season. David talked about his wife and two sons and how important his family is to him, and he also talked about his passion for La Escuela de las Nubes and how what a pleasure it is to be involved with such an efficient project--his wife, an architect and a professor at the local university, helped with the design for the school and David has overseen every aspect of the project along with a local contractor working on the site (and whose kids will attend the school). It will cost only a fraction of what other nearby schools have cost and David attributes a lot of the effective cost management to the fact that this is a Rotary project and taps a number of volunteers as well as donated goods and services.
David began working on his project idea over a year ago, and when the Iowa MOST team was in Huehuetenango in February 2016 and heard of his project and his passion for it, the team members dug into their pockets and made a $500 donation on the spot. Cassye Dunkhase, a member of the Iowa MOST team for several years who is a Rotarian in Boulder, CO and a music teacher and musician, returned home from the mission and gave a benefit concert in Boulder and raised another $500 to contribute for the school project. David needed another $5000 in order to launch the project, and after the Iowa MOST team talked about a number of fundraising possibilities, Peter and Kathryn Wallace decided to donate the funds themselves. Pete has been on a number of Iowa MOST missions and is an active member of the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club and he and Kathryn knew what a huge impact they could make with their donation. When David talks about the school today, he often refers to it as "Pete and Kathryn Wallace's" school. While we were attending the Rotary meeting in Huehuetenango this year, Deb Dunkhase was able to present David with a $1000 donation from John Stamler, another Rotarian from Iowa City who visited the school in the summer of 2016 while helping to plan the Iowa MOST 2017 mission.
We very much enjoyed our visit and loved the opportunity to talk with the kids and their teacher, give out books and warm scarves and sunglasses, and receive the warmest and most enthusiastic hugs! We talked with David and the construction team for the new school and appreciated the quick progress being made on the building. David explained the change in the design -- two separate rooms instead of one big room -- to accommodate the teacher's request to be able to have older students on one side of the building while younger students studied on the other with windows between the two rooms so that one teacher can keep an eye on both groups!
As with so many of our experiences in Huehuetenango, when we left the school that day our hearts were so much fuller than when we arrived. Thank you to David for his community leadership, and for Rotarians such as Pete Wallace, John Stamler and Cassiye Dunkhase who have helped make this dream a reality, as well as for the families of the kids who will attend La Escuela de las Nubes for helping make the partnership such a successful one.