RANCHO SANTA FE — When the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary is not helping drill water wells for Sudan, they are providing education, healthcare and a better standard of living for impoverished kids in Mexico.
Through Project Amigo, the Rotary has been funding the education of some of the “poorest of the poor,” in a village called Confradia in the state of Colima.
“I’ve been involved with Project Amigo for 30 years,” said Rotarian
Ole Prahm assistant district governor for the organization. “We taught these kids how to fish so they don’t need a hand-out. We have made this little village of Confradia in the state of Colima a better place for so many young, deserving students.”
The Rancho Santa Fe Rotary has also been helping pay the tuition for students Mario, Iris and Javier since the ninth grade, he said.
“Iris and Mario both finished with degrees from the University of Coloma.
“Javier is in his last year and graduates from that university in June of next year,” Prahm said.
He said high school tuitions are $600 plus per student annually and university tuition is between $3,000 and $4,000 per student per year.
He said the cost of the tuition for the three were shared by other participating Rotary Clubs.
Project Amigo was founded in a very odd way, said Don Meredith, past Rancho Santa Fe Rotary president.
“I met Ted and Susan (Rose) at a local Rotary meeting,” he said. “They told an interesting story about how he got lost going to see the volcano outside Colima. He took a bus and got off on the wrong stop at this desperately poor village.”
While waiting for the next bus, which was a long time, he was moved to do something about the poverty he saw at this village just outside Colima.
“It was a wonderful village right out of about 100 years ago,” Meredith said.
“He realized these kids would appreciate any assistance they got.”
Rose made several trips down from the United States, sold his business and ended up moving to the area.
He called upon Rotarians and donors to visit him there and to get involved.
“They started doing some amazing work at the local orphanage. They started buying them clothing and whatever else was needed,” he said. Medical care, including dental and vision was also provided.
Meredith took a trip down a few years ago for Project Amigo’s Annual Christmas Party to help distribute gifts including clothing, shoes and toys for about 400 children.
“I was not prepared for what I was going to see,” he said. “It was quite the experience.”
He rode with the other volunteers to various places to deliver the gifts many of them made possible by various Rotary Clubs across the U.S. and Canada.
“I was not prepared to watch kids getting a wrapped present who had never been given a present before,” he said. “They were so enamored with the wrapping, they literally did not want to ruin the prettiest thing they had ever seen.”
He said sometimes it took a half hour to get the child to open the package to see what was inside.
“It was emotional, sobering and enlightening. I had never seen these kinds of things,” he said.
He recalls particularly a young girl who was given a dress and who could not take her eyes off it for hours.
“These were the poorest of the poor. These are the ones who work in the sugar cane fields. We saw horrible huts.
“They had a broken down attempt at a schoolhouse. We brought books and shampoo. We were literally washing the hair of these kids with shampoo. The kids were laughing and giggling.”
He said shampoo did not exist in this village nor did a way of getting rid of head lice.
When it was time to say good-bye it was difficult for Meredith.
“You’d like to think you brought some goodness and hope and a lasting safety net. When you walk away you hope they are going to be OK, but you know they are not going to be OK,” he said.
But, he said, this story has a happy ending for some of the children because of Rotarians and other service clubs across the nation.
Some are able to get an education because of these generous donations.
“It’s amazing. These were throwaway kids, if there was ever a term for them. This was a hopeless group,” Meredith said.
Through education, these children can see another view of the world.
“They are allowed to step through the door of another world,” he said.
To learn more about Project Amigo call Prahm at (858) 472-1881 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Project Amigo website.