Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 19, 2013

Rotary club treks to Honduras

By Anne Stanton
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY— A Honduran woman was so happy to obtain a water filter from Traverse City Rotarians that she rewarded her visitors with cups of boiling hot coffee.

“It was about 90 degrees that day,” said Jay Berger. “Nobody really wanted to drink it, but she wanted to make sure she said ‘thank you’ to us.”

Berger and 26 other area residents recently returned from the lush, tropical country where they installed 195 water filters in three days.

The filters are simply made: three-foot high plastic barrels with a PVC pipe and spout on the outside, and gravel and sand on the inside. Manufactured by Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, they cost $100 and can last 10 years or more.

“When you pour the water in, the sand and rocks filter it, and out comes clean water,” Berger said.

Berger said the idea for the trip came two and a half years ago when Rotary Club of Traverse Bay Sunrise members decided they wanted a more vital club and to “do stuff.”

Shortly after deciding on the project, Rotarians Amy Pullen and Laura Jolly went to the Central American country to scout the area.

“We found that most have running water, but kids were dying from diarrhea and dehydration,” Pullen said.

Fast forward to March 16, when a group of 27 left for a weeklong trip, including 13 Rotarians and five under the age of 20.

“It was a big crew, and that was part of the challenge,” said Berger, who helped plan the trip.

The group first traveled to the bustling city of San Pedro Sula, where they met with local Rotarians. They later drove 12 miles up a treacherous, steep dirt road in a seven-truck caravan to their base camp, a comfortable Catholic retreat, Berger said.

Each day, seven teams fanned out to villagers’ homes — most of the time with a translator or local Rotarian — to put together the filters, which had been delivered earlier.

“It was so rewarding,” Jolly said. “In half an hour, you walk out, and they have clean water.”

Honduran men were harvesting coffee, so the group met mostly moms and children.

“They were extremely interested in getting the filters,” Berger said. “This is the third or fourth year of the project and many who didn’t get them were eager to get them.”

One woman ran down to the little store and bought a soda for them, Pullen said.

“You know they don’t have a lot of money, but they all wanted to give us everything … tortillas and sweetbreads,” she said.

Trip participant Tom Gilbert, an addictions counselor, recognized a sign for a recovery meeting while driving along a road and decided to attend. A 15-year-old local girl volunteered to interpret for him.

The teen later was introduced to a Rotary team member, who works at Northwestern Michigan College.

“So we put it out there: ‘If we can make it happen, you can go to NMC,’” Gilbert said. “She’d be the first person in her family and her village to graduate from high school and college, all because she said yes to interpreting for an American she’d never met at a meeting she’d never been to.”

Jolly said the Americans benefited from the trip as much as the Hondurans. One was a 14-year-old girl, who really didn’t want to go and had no problem saying so. By the week’s end, she’d changed her tune.

“To see how she dealt with things and how it made her grow in just a week,” she said. “It’s life changing for everybody to be a part of this, but that was powerful.”