Rotary Scholar’s unique ability in bringing clubs together
In a municipal hospital in Cubatão, Brazil, a new mammography machine funded by a Rotary global grant provides breast cancer screening to women who previously had to wait for weeks before they could get in for a checkup with a doctor.
A Rotary global grant also funded training for medical staff and cancer awareness education for people in the community. Isis Mejias Carpio of Houston, studying at the University of São Paulo on a Rotary scholarship, played an instrumental role in bringing together Rotary clubs in two countries to make the grant possible.
Members of the Rotary Club of Cubatão, who hosted Mejias during her scholarship, had already identified the hospital's need for expanded health services for women. Visiting the clinic herself, Mejias saw an opportunity to collaborate with her contacts back home in the Rotary Club of Humble Intercontinental, north of Houston.
"Building a bridge between a host and international sponsor on any grant project is always one of the most important parts," Mejias says. "It was very rewarding to know that my little participation evolved into a project like that."
The ink had barely dried on the final report for the mammography grant when Rotary member Bill Davis, Mejias' principal mentor in the Humble club, approached her with another health-related project. Baylor University in Texas had partnered with the government of Botswana to support the Botswana-Baylor Children's Center of Excellence, which provides free, state-of-the-art pediatric care, treatment, and support to HIV-positive children and their families in Botswana. The growing number of adolescents with HIV has outpaced the center's resources. So Davis, who had previous contacts with Baylor, was interested in pursuing a global grant to fund a separate adolescent center on an adjacent plot of land. The center would provide a safe place for kids to receive life skills education, health information, and training to deal with the stigma of HIV and discrimination they may face.
To get the project off the ground, Davis says he raised money in his district and called Mejias to see if her friends in Brazil would want to help.
The HIV project grant has been approved by the Foundation. It's just the latest good to come from Mejias' first meeting with Davis in 2011. A volunteer with the Central Houston chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at the time, Mejias was looking for help on a clean water project for a hospital in Kenya and had heard that Davis and his club had a history of supporting EWB projects. So she approached him.
"I liked what she had proposed," says Davis, who recalls Mejias had already been to Kenya twice to see the project, which also involved a retired doctor from San Diego whose wife is a Rotary member. "I thought it's a pretty secure deal, so our club became the international sponsor and got a couple other clubs in."
"Talking to Bill we made a friendship through the months of developing this grant," Mejias says. She told him she was working with a team at the University of Houston developing a bio-filter to remove metals from water. Davis told her of a Rotary scholarship for graduate students that she might be interested in. But the deadline was in two weeks. "I knew little about the scholarship, but I researched it and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to understand more about water treatment."
Mejias met the deadline and was selected for the scholarship, but she didn't want to abandon her work. So with the help of her academic sponsors, she forged an agreement between the University of Houston and the University of São Paulo to collaborate on the study and work toward a dual PhD.
About her Rotary scholarship, Mejias says, it made her realize "I can have a huge impact on changing people's lives. I was able to find my passion in life and determine I want to create a road for future projects."
Mejias was also recently selected by The Rotary Foundation to lead a team of engineers who will be traveling to Uganda to study the feasibility of water projects.