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Serving our communities

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After the storm

For nearly 24 hours, Hurricane Maria raged over Puerto Rico. With 155-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years.  

Much of Puerto Rico was destroyed. There was no electricity, water, health care, gas, or food. But there was Rotary. 

In the fishing town of El Maní, the Rotary Club of Mayagüez offered financial support to help residents rebuild their homes. The club worked with community leaders to find people who desperately needed assistance but didn’t qualify for reconstruction aid from the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In a year, the club helped 22 families repair their homes, mostly replacing roofs. Clubs throughout the United States wired about $50,000 directly to the Mayagüez club to provide support.

On the other side of the island, the Rotary Club of San Juan delivered food, water, and 300,000 pouches of baby food to families. In Loíza, the club has distributed mattresses to replace those ruined by rainwater. 

Faustino A. Rivera-Rivera (left), of the Rotary Club of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, talks with Eladio Montalvo, who is rebuilding his home with materials donated by the club.

Rotary is about touching other people’s lives, and in doing that, you’re transformed too.

Rotary Club of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico

Club members also provided an emotional outlet for local youth by establishing theater groups. With schools closed and the power out, teens came in droves to participate. A Rotary Foundation global grant has allowed the project to expand. Funding for the grant came from former San Juan club member Robert Murray and his wife, Edit, who donated $1 million to The Rotary Foundation specifically for the Puerto Rico recovery effort. Murray is now a member of the Rotary Club of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he remains committed to disaster response.

In Rubias, a village so remote it is not served by Puerto Rico’s sewer and aqueduct authority, families constructed a rudimentary electric-powered system to pipe water from a nearby stream. The Rotary Club of Yauco teamed up with Water Is Life to install a SunSpring solar-powered water filtration system in Rubias and two other towns.

In 2019, The Rotary Foundation introduced a new disaster response fund and grant type to supplement Rotary’s disaster response strategy. Disaster response grants support relief and recovery efforts in areas that have been affected by natural disasters. These grants are funded by contributions to the Rotary Disaster Response Fund.

A reason to smile

About 600 children are born each year in Chile with cleft lips and palates. Though the government established eight centers to treat them, the long waiting list means corrective surgery can take years. 

So Rotary members stepped in to fill that gap.

Since 2004, Ricardo Román, a member of the Rotary Club of Reñaca, Valparaíso, has served as the national coordinator for a program that has helped thousands of children in Chile with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other birth defects. Chilean Rotarians, Rotaractors, and doctors team up with Rotarians and medical personnel from the United States to provide life-altering reconstructive surgeries.

Support comes from many sources. A nearby copper mine provides financial assistance for the program, and local Rotarians coordinate and fund the medical teams’ food, lodging, and in-country transportation. Visiting doctors pay for their flights, and Rotaractors and Rotarians provide translation services.

One Saturday morning, more than 250 potential patients lined up outside Ernesto Torres Galdames Hospital in Iquique. A team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses set up four operating rooms: one for cleft lip or palate, one for ear reconstruction, one for breast reconstruction, and one for other issues. They operated on 82 patients, selecting them based on need and complexity. In many cases, complete reconstruction may take multiple surgeries, and some patients return several years in a row to complete the procedure.

Now, with help from Rotarians from different parts of the world, thousands of children in Chile are leading healthy lives.

The value of community assessments

When the Rotary Club of Kololo-Kampala, Uganda, and its Rotary Foundation global grant partner, District 9980 (New Zealand), launched an adopt-a-village project to support community economic development in Lugo, they began by talking to local leaders.

Rotarians gathered teachers, officials, elders, health care administrators, young adults, religious leaders, and other key figures to conduct a community assessment, allowing the team to learn about the village and what it needed most.

Effective community assessments capture the perspectives of area residents who have firsthand knowledge of local needs, resources, and expertise, and who can partner with Rotary clubs to ensure long-term community support for a project. Without these assessments, many adopt-a-village projects are not sustainable.

The assessment in Lugo identified a need for economic development, education, health care, and water and sanitation. To help address these areas, the adopt-a-village project provided cows, sewing machines, books, and school desks; established a village health team; and installed a borehole and water harvesting system to provide clean water.