Changing lives through international service

By Brian Carman, Past President of the Rotary Club of Vero Beach Sunrise, United States

This project began as most Rotary projects do. I was invited to participate in a new effort by the Rotary Club of Vero Beach Sunrise to visit the Dominican Republic and learn about local efforts to improve drinking water. Three past presidents were leading the project by building on work Rotary clubs in Michigan had done. As president-elect, I wanted to know more.

The basis of the project was to assess the needs of the local community, and if possible to implement and sustain, we would fund as much of the project as we were able. This included biosand filters (making potable water) and creating aqueducts (making water available) to very poor villages in the mountains.

We also looked into literacy in these low-income areas. We found others that had begun some innovative educational projects and soon joined them in their efforts. Many Rotary clubs were involved in all of these efforts and we were able to join them by either matching their funds or they matched ours. This allowed us to build a collaborative partnership and help when and where it was needed.

Subsequent trips involved mentoring young women in their pursuit of higher education, a program called New Horizons. Then our team leader, Dr. Rick Root began bringing dentists to the villages to provide necessary and vital health care to the area. This is a subject for an entire article on its own! I cannot say enough about this. It is truly amazing!

An added bonus to this project was the work of our committee. Through the committee, we learned to work with one another, despite our differences. In the course of some “push and shove” compromise, mutual respect and better outcomes prevailed. Leadership learned and leadership earned! To me as a 20+ year Rotarian, this was absolutely priceless!

Each trip (I have made six in as many years), we revisited our projects to see for ourselves how they were working. We had made investments in these communities and we wanted to make sure that our investments were still viable and sustainable. Concrete floors where there had been dirt floors, water at the taps where there had been none, clean water to cook and to bathe with.  And young women with invaluable scholarships from our club mentoring the Hermanacitas (little sisters).

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Seeing our investments pay off with healthier people, improving communities, and the smiles, oh – those smiles! You can’t put a dollar value on a smile, but that was the currency in which we received our Rotary paychecks.

Before I knew it, I had become involved in the lives of the people in these villages. I knew their names, their families and I shared meals in their homes. We worked together, played games and sung together and even argued upon occasion.

I don’t know just how much I, or we, changed their lives. But I do know, without doubt, that this project has changed MY life!

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