Disaster Aid Canada —a Ladysmith-based international aid organization sponsored by the Ladysmith Rotary Club — has been hard at work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the help of donations across Canada and the work of local Rotary clubs, Disaster Aid Canada has helped with relief efforts following the Beirut explosion, helped restore flooded schools in Melaque after Tropical Storm Hernan, led relief efforts for Guatemala and Honduras after hurricanes Eta and Iota wreaked havoc on Central America, and organized for the delivery of oxygen generators to help hospitals in India battle the onslaught of COVID-19 infections in the country.
Disaster Aid Canada president, Gerry Beltgens said the organization has shifted from purely emergency response work and is focused on funding rebuilding efforts in communities. Disaster Aid Canada still raises funds for emergency response work, but those funds are sent to Rotary clubs that are focused on emergency relief.
“Rather than just sending stuff, we talked to Rotary clubs there and asked them to check out what was happening in the community that needed support. They went out and got a couple of projects going. They explained to us exactly what they needed and gave us an idea of the costs. Then we raise money for them,” Beltgens said.
That shift started with Disaster Aid Canada’s work to help restore water service to the Honduran Village of La Mata. La Mata has a population of 500 and before the project, the nearest access to clean drinking water was seven kilometres out of town. The project was Disaster Aid Canada but managed by the Rotary Club of Comayagua in Honduras and the Rotary Club of Comox in Canada.
Following the success of their work in Honduras, Disaster Aid Canada is now working to support the Rotary Club Guatemala Vista Hermosa Satellite Uwara to address malnutrition in Mayan Villages of Guatemala.
Chemainus Rotary Club member Jacqueline Mealing has worked in Guatemala for the past 25 years. Mealing said that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a change in how international aid works on the ground.
“This last year was our most powerful year of change because now the program is totally run by the Indigenous women rather than them depending on a group coming down and leaving,” she said. “The women are acquiring leadership skills and are helping their own people in ways that are productive.”
Disaster Aid Canada has donated $7,000 to build a community centre for the villages where local women will administer a nutrition program for young children.
“Right now 60 percent of all the children there suffer from malnutrition,” Mealing said.
Mealing hopes that providing nutrition to children will help them develop into healthier adults, who in turn will help their communities prosper. Malnourished children have significant learning difficulties with only a fraction finishing primary school.
So far, 2,000 bags of nutritional supplements have been delivered to the villages and more shipments are expected over the coming months. Disaster Aid Canada is working to build more supports beyond nutrition, which would include more health supports and long-term sustainable supports for the villages.
Those additional supports would be subject to receiving a Rotary Global Grant. Disaster Aid Canada is working with the Rotary Club Guatemala Vista Hermosa Satellite Uwara on a grant application now.
Beltgens said that Disaster Aid Canada’s initiatives are only possible because of the teamwork between the various Rotary Clubs that make it all work.
“Working together in collaboration with different organizations gives us so much more impact,” Beltgens said.