I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Monday, October 19, 2015

7790 PDG Deb Walters to be Honored at the United Nations

Dr. Deb Walters
Rotary International President K.R.Ravindran announced that six Rotarians from around the world have been selected as Global Women of Action.
Our own PDG Deb is the only North American selected. The criteria for the award were a combination of a successful professional career and demonstration of providing service. Dr. Deb was nominated by DG Al Feather, and selected by RI from a pool of 110 nominees based on here service to breaking the cycle of chronic poverty in Guatemala. The award will be presented at the United Nations on November 7th at UN Rotary Day.

PDG Deb says, “This award is really an award for District 7790, because it was all of our clubs that contributed to the 2011/12 District Project that helped to break the cycle of poverty through providing water and sanitation in three highland villages in Guatemala, as well as building a preschool in another highland village.”

Women of Chipastor hauling water
For example, in Chipastor Rotarians visited to learn that the women and children were spending three hours a day hauling water up from the river. The river was so polluted the fish had died. Infants and the elderly were dying from waterborne diseases. Our district worked with a club in Utah and the NGO ALDEA to do our first Rotary Foundation global grant to purchase the supplies so the village could build a water and sanitation project.

Rotarians and villagers build latrines in Chipastor
The best thanks we received for our work there was from one of the grandmothers who said:
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Now my back is not aching.
Now my daughters have time to start small businesses.
Now my granddaughters are staying in school.
Now our babies are not dying.”

The joy of clean water!
The other aspect of her work to be recognized is her ten years of service at Safe Passage, helping the children and families that live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community. Again District 7790 has a history of helping Safe Passage through: PDG Doug Ibarguen's district project, multiple matching grants from the Farmington, Unity, Waterville and Waterville Sunrise clubs, and Rotarians from all over the district who have visited Guatemala for weeks of hands-on service.

Parents scavenging in the garbage dump in Guatemala City
At Safe Passage, the successes have been many. Hundreds of children have attended school. But you can't learn if you are unhealthy, so a health center was created. Almost 50% of children under the age of five in Guatemala are malnourished, but thank's to the nutrition program, no Safe Passage students are malnourished.  For both learning and nutrition, it is important to engage children early, so Safe Passage has an early childhood education center for 2 to 6 year olds. Parents are also learning to read and write, and have formed several small businesses so they no longer have to work in the dump. The burlap District 7790 conference bags helped a group of women to form a sewing cooperative. In Guatemala only 10% of the population has graduated from high school, but at Safe Passage 40% graduate. The graduates earn 5 times the average family income, and volunteer to help others in the community. It is possible to break the cycle of chronic poverty.

Students at Safe Passage preschool program
Currently Dr. Deb is paddling down the Georgia coast as part of her Maine to Guatemala solo kayaking expedition, stopping and staying with Rotarians and sharing the stories of success at Safe Passage. She has completed over 74% of the 2,500 mile expedition, but raised over 96% of the $425,000 fundraising goal. Can she stop when she reaches 100% of the goal?

Deb happy to meet Rotarians at the end of the day
Last January it looked like PDG Deb would have to give up the kayaking expedition, when she had to stop for emergency spinal surgery. But she carried on with the already planned speaking engagements by having her husband, Chris Percival, join her from Maine to drive her as she recovered. In Florida she sailed aboard a sailboat to Guatemala, and was warmly received by the children at Safe Passage.
Deb welcomed by Safe Passage student
Many folks thought that was enough. Deb had managed to get herself one way or another from Maine to Guatemala. But she felt it didn't adequately honor the grit and the determination of the children and parents at Safe Passage. In September she restarted the expedition where she had left off in South Carolina. In March or April she should reach Guatemala. You can follow her journey online at: www.safepassage.org/kayak.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Deb! I'm so happy that your efforts are being acknowledged this way. :o)