And if their mothers learn cooking skills, their lives, too, will be changed.
Those have been the goals of two successful projects—both with Rotary Foundation funding—that have resulted from the combined effort of the Portland Pearl and Belen Rotary Clubs.
The teaching kitchen came first. Four years ago, a $54,000 project equipped a culinary room at the Suri School, just outside Costa Rica’s capital. The vocational training for women offers an opportunity to learn a skill that could lead to work in the restaurants or hotels of San Jose or as paid domestic help.
“The culinary kitchen gives them an opportunity for better jobs,” said Maria Eugenia Mondragon (“Maru”), past president of the Belen Club.Her husband, Victor Mata Chacon (also a past president who will return to the Belen helm this July), said the quality of the installation, and the quantity of equipment, bring praise from outside food experts:
“Renowned chefs have come in to teach classes here. They say they don’t have anything like this in their kitchens. They should be very proud of it.”
On a visit to Costa Rica in March, my wife, Nancy, and I toured the school. We were joined by Belen Rotarians for a delicious chicken lasagna lunch prepared by women who study in “our” kitchen. On the wall near the entrance door is a plaque commemorating Rotarians’ contribution.
Club members in the two countries, linked first at a project fair that Central America Rotarians host to seek support, forged a friendship that led to a second effort: a computer lab for the 130 female students (ages 13-18) with a total Rotary investment of $18,500.
Nineteen workstations and two printers will be linked when the room opens this summer. Computers and related equipment have arrived and await installation, after the ordered desks reach Suri.
The visiting Smiths followed the Suri school visit by attending an evening meeting of the Belen club, hosted by Maru and Victor. I am the sixth Rotarian from PPRC to visit. In Spanish, I saluted our international projects, thanked Belen Rotarians for their friendship and hospitality, and invited them to visit Portland and be hosted by Pearl Rotarians.
(During our visit, Belen Rotarians were also told that Pearl Rotary may again join hands with the Costa Ricans: PPRC has committed $500 to the East Portland/Belen matching grant application to equip an emergency room at a clinic near Belen. That application is now before the Rotary Foundation in Evanston, Ill.)
Long after our return to Oregon (our stay in San Jose also included visits with two youth exchange students to my former club in Minnesota), I reflected. My international experiences with Rotary Clubs in the past have come through making up meetings or expanding connections through youth exchange. On trips, I have observed Rotarians’ service projects from Northern Ireland to South Africa.
But this was a first–actually witnessing first-hand the results of matching grants initiated by my own Rotary Cub (in this case, Portland Pearl). After acquaintanceship with Belen Rotarians, Pearl Rotarians committed both money from its non-profit Pearl Fund and time to recruit dollars from District 5100 clubs. Today teen-age girls and women, through education at the kitchen and computer room, have opportunities that might not have existed without Rotary.
They come to Suri School from a community where unemployment, poverty, crime, drugs, teen-age pregnancy and single parenting could dictate their lives.
But today, mothers will find jobs…and some girls will go to university.
It happened, in the words of the 2011-12 Rotary International theme, because Rotarians “Reach Within to Embrace Humanity.”
(Donald Q. Smith is the former editor and publisher of the Monticello, Minn., Times; he lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is a freelance journalist and member of the Portland Pearl Rotary Club. He’s a past president of both the Pearl and Monticello Rotary Clubs.)