It has been a month since our team returned from a week in Guatemala. These were not beach-goers but rather workers partnering with Common Hope, an NGO based in St. Paul, MN. In the colonial city of Antigua, at 5,000 feet in the highlands, they had brisk mornings followed by temperatures in the high 70s during the day, and unfailing sunshine.

This year’s team was the 10th we have sent since our first full team traveled in 2012. It was unique in that this time we had Rotarians and spouses from four neighboring Rotary clubs: Mukwonago, Mequon-Thiensville Sunrise, Mitchell Field, and Oconomowoc. There was an amazing vibe as the 11 people got to know each other well very early in the week, working side by side on the house construction project, and all the other activities that typify the week of service way above self. Team Leader Wally Smanski wrote the following, describing the activity of implementating the District Grant which we received for the purchase of medical supplies and prescription drugs for the health center:

Our Vision team visit to Common Hope in Guatemala included the following activities in support of our District Grant.  Our initial task included counting and sorting pills for the pharmacy at the clinic. Availability of basic meds is critical to healthy families. We then participated in eyeglass distribution to 35 children who had eye exams and required corrective lens. The process was a celebration event for the children and their parents. An ice-breaker activity reinforced the value of good eyesight in everyday life. In a classroom setting, proper eyecare and eyeglass care were explained during a presentation by a clinic nurse.  The actual eyeglass distribution ceremony was amazing. The doctor read  each child's name, and our team members presented them with their eyeglasses and took a photo to remember this special event. Sandwiches and juice completed a wonderful experience.”

Part of our support of Common Hope is the sponsoring of Guatemalan children to enable them to remain in school. The “model” adopted is to expose our team members to families and children, and that has automagically led to more than 35 sponsorships over the years. This time, Matt and Lynn Zach of the Oconomowoc Rotary Club “adopted” a little girl, and the heartwarming photos below provide a sense of the joy on both sides. It is not necessary to travel to Guatemala to become a sponsor, and we can help arrange a match for anyone who is interested.


Beyond that, there are plans for trip #11 in February of 2021, and Elmbrook Rotarians new and old are encouraged to inquire about it. We will need to have a strong level of interest by May 31 in order to be able to proceed with making the arrangements. It is first come, first served, with a few spots reserved for “first timers.” In early 2011, an intrepid ERC foursome traveled to several places in Guatemala, at their own expense, to research possibilities for “boots on the ground” participation in an international project (a major charge to the International Committee by ERC President Charley Shirley). Since then, we have had 23 additional Elmbrook Rotarians, 10 guest Rotarians representing 8 other clubs, 16 spouses, 12 family members, and 12 friends make the trip, almost half of them multiple times. Team sizes have ranged from 10 to 17, each having a slightly different dynamic, and as in many things, the more the merrier.

So consider joining us. It is a “life changing” experience as anyone who has been part of a team will tell you. Not one person has come back without being an enthusiastic supporter of the program and the fundamental concept of helping create an environment where literacy and education can take the place of agricultural child labor. Activities in health, housing, and family development are all components of reaching that goal.

You can view the team's entire photo album on the ERC web site by clicking here.