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Hudson Daybreak Rotary team gets its hands dirty in Guatemala

A Guatemalan woman is pictured in front of her newly made stove, which was created by members of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club. Photo courtesy of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club1 / 2
Hudson Daybreak Rotary members, including: Jamie Johnson, Chris Wood, Dave Drewiske, Jill McNamee, Kitt Drewiske, Brian Elwood, Linda Robertson, and Amy Schneider are pictured with the East Guatemalan Rotary Club after a day of building stoves. Photo courtesy of the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club2 / 2

The Rotary mission is to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges, both locally and globally, and over the past year, leaders from the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Team united with a team of international Rotary leaders to help indigenous Guatemalans overcome a critical challenge: cooking practices that were causing severe health complications and in some cases even resulting in death.

Within just a year, the Hudson Daybreak Rotary and Rotary leaders from across the western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota district have helped create safe, healthy cooking environments in more than 250 homes, and they have their sights set on helping even more people in 2018.

"I've had the chance over the last 10 years to go on medical mission trips and I guess that over those prior nine years, I have created those trips through a variety of places," said Hudson Daybreak Rotary member Dr. Greg Young. "As I continued to do this, I felt like our club could use an international project since we were struggling to find something to fundraise for internationally. We have done a good job locally, but we hadn't found a good project to help out internationally.

"The last mission trip to Guatemala, I took along Linda Robertson ... and as we were meeting up with local Rotary clubs in Guatemala, we met up with Carlos Galvez, who is the founder and driver of this project. We went out with him and saw the project he was working on and we knew we needed to bring it back to our Rotary club."

Three years ago, Young and Robertson went on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. During their trip they came across many indigenous Guatemalans with respiratory diseases, eye irritations, burns, and other medical issues that were directly traced back to the unsafe practice of cooking with open fires in their homes. Knowing Rotary is a global organization, Robertson and Young reached out to the Guatemala East Rotary Club. The pair were excited to find that one of the local Rotary Club's members, Galvez, had already begun championing the Clean Cooking Stove Program.

"All of the materials for the stoves are locally sourced. It is made of cinder blocks and bricks, along with a stainless steel top and a sheet metal chimney that is vented through a hole in their wall or ceiling," Robertson said. "When we were building the stoves, the open fire stoves that they already had in their huts were burning as well, so we were getting to experience what it was like for them to cook on a daily basis. It was like smoking 400 cigarettes a day."

Galvez and his team had created a wood burning rocket stove to install in the homes of Indigenous Guatemalans that prevents them from inhaling toxic fumes created by cooking with open flames. After starting the program in mid-2014 Galvez realized that in order to truly make an impact, he would need a broader support mechanism. Led by Rotary through partnerships with other charities and the private sector, the Guatemalan East Rotary Clean Stove Program has grown from a handful of stoves at inception to over 3,000 stoves placed in homes and schools across the region.

"Sometimes the simplest things in life matter the most. Many of us take cooking for granted without realizing for many women and children it can be deadly. To see the relief we can bring to these women, children and families shows us how vital it is having programs like this. Being the bridge that connects many Rotarians' hearts with the hands of women whóse dream in life is having a stove it ́s truly heart-warming. The special love that each Rotarian I have met gives me, and the support we have received from our Friends in Hudson and around the globe, keeps me motivated in making more dreams come true and feeling fortunate to be part of a great team," said Galvez.

Under the leadership of Young and Robertson, the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club set forth a mission to be involved both financially and physically to aid in improving lives of indigenous Guatemalans. In January 2018, that mission turned into reality when a team from Daybreak Rotary spent a week building stoves in Guatemala along with a $5,000 donation to the Guatemalan East Rotary Clean Stove Program.

"Meeting the Guatemalan people has been one of the highlights of this project. I think these trips have really helped me understand that they are people just like us and are a very caring people," Young said. "They have a great spirit, considering that if we were in their position, we would probably be down and destitute, sad and homeless. They have a tremendous positivity."

This inaugural trip made clear the even greater impact that the Daybreak Rotary could have in the future. From Jan. 4 — 11, Daybreak volunteers Amy Schneider, Brian Elwood, Chris Wood, Dave Drewiske, Kitt Drewiske (Dave's daughter), Jamie Johnson, Jill McNamee, and Robertson worked with Galvez and his team to build 17 more stoves.

"The power of the global partnership has been a remarkable partnership, not just for the people in Guatemala and the good work that is being done there, but also the impact it is having on our Rotary Club and how that is expanding," said Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club President Amy Schneider. "What I loved most from the trip was that it was an immediate impact and we were able to change lives in a way that would be sustainable. That was the most powerful piece for me."

In addition to Daybreak Rotary's commitment, the local Rotary District 5960, which covers clubs in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, also provided a grant that allowed the total financial commitment for the project in 2018 to increase to $12,933. At a cost of $69 per stove, the Daybreak Rotary Club has helped provide a safe cooking option for over 250 homes in Guatemala.

"This time when we went down, we went to the communities where we had previously built the stoves, and the principals, the children and the mayor of the community put a presentation on for us. It was so touching that many of us were in tears because they were so appreciative of the help that we have given them," Robertson said. "I really felt that that partnership was there between us and the Guatemalan people. The gratitude went both ways. We were grateful to be there to get to see and experience their culture to help you realize that we were making a significant impact on these people who were impoverished when it came to money, but not when it came to having a community that supports each other."

Although the Daybreak Team just returned from building stoves, they have already begun focusing on January 2019. The goal is to win a Global Rotary Grant which would be a minimum donation of $33,000 to the Clean Cooking Stove Program.

"The most powerful moment for me was getting the opportunity to learn how to build the stoves and work with the locals who were installing the stoves. They took the time and had the patience to teach us, which was great because doing that probably doubled their work day," Schneider said. "I've never been so excited to see a stove built and a chimney put up so I could watch the smoke go outside of the living area. The smiles on the family members' faces were amazing to see."

Hudson Daybreak Rotary is a diverse group of community members who strive to make a positive impact on the greater Hudson community, especially enhancing opportunities for youth.

"The global connectivity we have with so many clubs across the globe allows us to address global challenges. Rotary is a community because of that in and of itself. So we can make a difference across the globe," Schneider said. "I think that is a powerful statement as to why anyone should be part of Rotary and what the impact of Rotary can be."

Daybreak Rotary meets 7-8:15 a.m. Wednesdays at the Hudson House Grand Hotel (1616 Crestview Drive) in Hudson. Guests and prospective Rotarians are welcome to attend meetings and events.

"The personal part for me was getting to know my fellow Rotarians, colleagues and leaders of this community on a trip like that," Schneider said. "We had an excellent time growing and learning together that you just don't get through the typical work day in our community."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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