Seven Ohio chapters of the international Rotary Club didn’t want to simply preach the importance of education, they wanted to do something about it.
So over the past nine years various members have banded together, loaded up their tools, and journeyed to Honduras to give children there a fighting chance to learn. The trips have included their 15th project, begun in January, when nine members of four of the clubs worked to remodel a school in El Zapotel, a small community within San Pedro Sula, the country’s large business capitol.
The project is an ongoing commitment for the Rotarians, who want to help the children there rise above the stifling poverty surrounding them by getting a solid education.
“We are an international service club,” said Sean McGhee, a Swanton Rotarian and the clubs’ project manager. “The needs in a third-world country are real. And where the children in that country aren’t worried so much about school or video games – the needs are food, shelter, life necessity needs. If we can allow these children to get an education, we believe their chances improve.”
The Rotary chapters involved include Swanton, Bryan, Toledo, Tiffin, Fostoria, Bellevue and Elyria Sunrise. They receive support from the Usula Rotary Club of San Pedro Sula and its president and project leader, Sergio Pineda.
The collective Rotary chapters have also completed an upgrade of the capitol’s Casa De La Nina girls’ orphanage, and provided a generator and an upgrade to the Francisco Morazon School, a 1,000-student vocational school that processes and sells tilapia and vegetables in order to provide meals to the children. The hands-on work for the projects has included building classrooms and a school office, painting, laying block, and installing plumbing, an electrical system, and air-conditioning.
In addition to the handiwork, the Rotary clubs have provided the students with uniforms, school supplies, and food. The Honduran government offers no aid.
The main project, remodeling a school in El Zapotel, allowed the addition of kindergarten and fifth grade to a first through fourth grade system.
“It’s an opportunity for Rotarians to travel and do hands-on work. That’s what I think is appealing about it,” McGhee said. “Anybody can write a check. But it takes a real commitment to go down there and do the work itself.”
They help a school in a different community of San Pedro Sula with each trip, centering their projects on schools and on the girls’ orphanage.
“In the worst areas, kids are trying to get through fourth grade,” McGhee said. “They have to drop out to get work to provide for their family. Our work is making the world a better place. And what we can do is a small part of it.”
The Rotary clubs contribute thousands of dollars to complete their projects, using proceeds from fundraisers such as the annual auction and a matching grant from the Rotary district offices. Each volunteer traveling to Honduras pays their own trip expenses.
McGhee, a Toledo-Swanton area financial advisor, has made 31 trips since he got involved. He was inspired to rally the seven clubs by a Plymouth, Mich., Rotarian, who was already doing work in Honduras. Their first project back in 2008 converted a community center into a kindergarten.
“Our club focuses on education, specifically. We’re trying to do the most we can with the amount of money we have to work with,” McGhee said. “I’ve seen kids eight years old walk in to be in kindergarten because their parents didn’t see a need to put them in school.”
He said the Honduran people welcome the Rotarians’ ideas. “They’re friendly, very knowledgeable of what’s going on, not only in their country but the world. They know education is a path to prosperity,” he said.
Toledo Rotarian Dan Skiliter said he knew of the Rotarians’ impact internationally but wanted to experience it for himself.
“It’s something my parents instilled in me. I’ve lived a very blessed life, and it’s my duty to give back to those less fortunate than myself,” he said.
He spent a week helping in the girls’ orphanage, and said the trip had an emotional ending. “All the girls start crying because they’re sad to see you go. They truly value our relationship with them, and they truly value our time. It truly showed me there’s a bigger world out there that has more problems than we experience in our everyday lives. It definitely shows us that we’re more blessed than we think we are.”
McGhee said the Rotary chapters have no pending project in Honduras, but will continue the trips when they present themselves.
“We’re just trying to give every kid an opportunity to get an education,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.