Three members of Franklin's Rotary Club joined three other area Rotarians earlier this month on a trip to Nicaragua to complete a desperately needed service project. As part of a six-person contingent, Franklin Rotarians traveled to Esteli, Nicaragua, to take part in the early construction stages of a foot bridge that would provide access across a river that became impassable during the height of the rainy season. After completion of the bridge, the once isolated villagers will be able to get to medical support, school, and be able to bring their produce and crafted goods to local markets so they can make at least a basic subsistence.
“Bridges to Prosperity is a great service project example of Rotarians helping people help themselves,” said Gary Dills, president of Franklin Rotary. “In this case, helping build a bridge allows that community’s people to go to school, see doctors, and trade and in the process, teaches them how to build other bridges and sustain the one they are helping build. Rotary District 7670’s team consisted of our district governor, Frank Dean, a former district governor and project chair Jim Efland and three Franklin Rotarians – Beverly Mason from Daybreak Rotary, plus Tom Coley and Stacy Guffey from the Rotary Club of Franklin.”
“My wife, Beverly Mason, and I have wanted to be a part of a mission/service project for a while,” said Coley. “We learned about a Rotary service endeavor that supported a Bridges to Prosperity project to build a foot bridge across a river in Nicaragua and decided that was where we could serve and be a part of a gift that would keep on giving to many future generations.”
The three Rotarians spent the first nine days of March involved in work specific to the project involving constructing re-bar frames and mixing onsite concrete to be poured into excavated foundation forms. Other parts of the project included meeting with the local villagers that the project served giving out school supplies, toys, clothing, and over-the-counter medications and toiletries. “We also met with the mayor of Esteli and the Esteli Rotary Club and had national news coverage by a Nicaraguan television station,” said Coley. “We all felt that we had planted wonderful seeds of fellowship and good will between our countries.”
Guffey was an important part of the trip, as his knowledge of foreign language came into play on several occasions. “I've spent a lot of time in Latin America and I know how important these kinds of aid projects are, so I wanted to be a part of making a positive impact,” said Guffey. I thought my language skills might also be of value to the group.”
Rotary District 7670 is made up of more than 50 clubs. The service project to Nicaragua is an extension of work that has been taken place between Rotary District 7670 and the Nicaraguan Rotary Club for years. “We have been delivering wheel chairs to Nicaragua for the last few years,” said Mason. “We have now been able to get financial help for the bridges project. It is in the dry season in Nicaragua now and the rainy season will began in May and it will rain until the end of the year.”
Timing for the trip was crucial because according to Mason, during the rainy season, the creeks and rivers will rise up to 12 feet above where they are now.
“This shuts the villagers off,” said Mason. “Most of the villagers grow their own food, but the extra food that they grow cannot make it to market so they will have no money or means to purchase any supplies. We wanted to help with this much-needed project and deliver some supplies to them as well.”
Guffey noted that the service project was so important to the sustainability and propensity of the villiage of El Dorado. “The pedestrian bridges connect villages to crop land, families to clinics, schools and other services that otherwise are cut off during the height of the rainy season,” said Guffey. “I think a quote from the letter we received from the school kids in San José de Pire, one of the bridge sites, sums it up best, ‘We will no longer have to wade up to our knees to cross the river in the winter time to get to school.’ One of the best aspects of the bridge project is that the community is expected to do most of the labour. That means they are invested in the project and feel a sense of ownership.”
Between building the bridget, and the ongoing wheel chair project, the members of Franklin's Rotary Club have been able to fill a void in Nicaragua. “The bridges will help the villagers access churches, cemeteries (which is important to them), schools, medical care,” said Mason. “Also, the last wheelchair delivery our Rotary District there was 287 wheel chairs. I think both of these projects will make their lives better.”
Coley explained that during the trip, a bond was formed on many levels. “District 7670 governor, Frank Dean, and team leader, Jim Efland, worked with Bridges to Prosperity personnel on plans to construct two more bridges in the area,” he said. “Our team worked shoulder to shoulder with village volunteers and Bridges to Prosperity personnel that created friendships that will last beyond this project.”
Mason and Coley explained that the experience of being in Nicaragua helped to learn about the culture and the desperate state of poverty for the region.
“There were many aspects that impressed us during our trip. Beverly and I were struck by the wide spread poverty and primitive living conditions in Nicaragua,” said Coley. “At the same time were also impressed with the warm smiles and gentleness of the people. Especially the children seem to be happy and innocent. Also the natural beauty of the region was breathtaking.”
The appreciation of the villagers was among Mason's favorite aspects of the trip.
“My favorite part of the trip was Saturday,” she said. “We went to one of the bridges which is under construction and all of these villages came over to the bridge site. There were probably 50+ adults and many children. These kids are so adorable. The villagers seemed to really appreciate what we were doing and the children like to watch the ‘Gringos’ work.”
In addition to building the bridges, the volunteers visited area schools to hand out much needed supplies. Guffey said seeing the look on the children's faces was the highlight of the trip for him.
“My favorite part of the trip was giving out school supplies and gifts,” he said. “The kids were excited for the most basic things like chalk, pencils, crayons. But when we pulled out the soccer ball, there were squeals and yelling all around. It really reminds you of all the things we take for granted.”
During the trip, the group took Sunday off, and Mason suffered an unfortunate accident. “We took Sunday off to honor the Sabbath and we were just checking out some sites in rural Esteli and I just slipped on some stones and they rolled and I fell down breaking my leg,” said Mason. “I am on the mend now and I am so thankful for our wonderfu; team.”
During the March meeting, Guffey informed members of Franklin's Rotary Club that old Boy Scout tricks came in to play when they had to construct a makeshift stretcher out of bamboo and other available supplies to help carry Mason to safety.
The Rotary Club's work is not done in Nicaragua. “There will be another district trip to Nicaragua later this year. Rotarians will visit the completed bridge projects,” said Guffey. “We've also made friendships and connections with community leaders. I'm sure we'll find ways to stay involved. For me, this was a reminder of all the great work Rotary does around the world.”
For additional information about Bridges to Prosperity, visit www.BridgestoProsperity.org.