Rotarians help Mayans produce food

In February, John and Mary Mulrooney travelled to Guatemala to volunteer at a women’s centre on behalf of the Ladysmith Rotary Club.

  • Apr. 28, 2014 5:00 p.m.

In February, John and Mary Mulrooney travelled to Guatemala to volunteer at a women’s centre on behalf of the Ladysmith Rotary Club, helping the women develop a garden, handing out bags filled with school supplies, and finding out about courses the local club funded to help the women improve their lives.

The Mulrooneys shared a slideshow presentation that ties together the various groups from Vancouver Island that went to Guatemala this winter — Ladysmith, Chemainus, Qualicum and Nanaimo – two weeks ago, sharing pictures of the women they worked with and the other Rotarians they worked with and explaining how much of a difference the Ladysmith Rotary Club is making in the Central American country.

When they went to Guatemala, Mary took a week’s worth of Spanish lessons in Antigua, the former capital city, where they also have a three-day Rotary Fair, which she and John were able to visit.

“People who came to it were from Central America, and they were trying to find Rotarians that would take on and partner with them,” explained Mary. “There was no problem finding projects.”

The Mulrooneys went to Guatemala to do the work the Rotary Club chose to use its District Community Grant for. The club raised $2,500, which was matched by the Rotary District Community Grant, and John explained that their role was to bring opportunities to Mayan families in Guatemala.

John and Mary worked in a little town called San Lucas Tolimán on the edge of Lake Atitlan. John says the scenery is beautiful, and the lake looks beautiful, but the lake has no exit, and that is one of the issues facing the Mayans who live there.

“The water doesn’t leave the lake, so everything goes into it, so that means it isn’t purified by a river flowing out and taking stuff out,” he explained. The native Mayan women wash their clothes to a great extent, traditionally, they would wash their clothes in the lake. That was no problem when they were a small population, but now, that’s a significant problem.”

A big project the Mulrooneys worked on while in Guatemala was to work with a women’s centre to set up a garden. The women’s group was given the use of a garden by a local Catholic parish that was impressed with the work they were doing.

“This land was given to the women for their use,” explained John. “There are challenges with it — heavy rains will come, and they will flood it, and when it floods, that’s the end of your season. They start sometime in May, so that will be end of the production for 2014. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year. The land belongs to the local Catholic parish, but the people in the parish were impressed with what these women were doing, so they said ‘you can have this section of land for your use, and maybe you can have it afterwards if we see you are using it well.’”

The Rotarians worked to help the women learn how to produce a garden.

“The purpose of the garden was to produce food for their use and to sell maybe to bring them some income, but the main purpose was to get them into the whole idea of sowing vegetables and growing a greater variety of food that has nutritious value,” said John. “They were traditionally always growing maize, and their staple diet is tortilla, but there isn’t a lot of nutrition in a tortilla.”

John and Mary hope the garden at the women’s centre might be a model for some of the women in the future.

Thirty women in Guatemala have been working in the large garden, and production continues. John and Mary say that, since they’ve been home, they have heard of food from the garden being distributed away from the women’s centre.

The women themselves came up with what they wanted in the project and presented it to the Rotarians. They started off with a massive project that would be about $12,500 U.S., according to John, so they had to simplify it.

One of the things the women wanted was access to information and communication and working with a computer, so the Rotary District Community Grant bought a computer and printer for the women, and they also helped provide school supplies for children.

The women’s centre hosts educational courses, and the Ladysmith Rotary Club is paying for the courses, which are taught by Mayans and include baking for market, cooking for market, computer use, crafts for market, advanced weaving, backstrap weaving, health care, first aid, agriculture, family planning, and crocheting for market.

“It’s really marvelous the way they want to learn,” said Mary.

Mary feels the women are developing skills and developing confidence by being part of these projects that are supported by Rotary.

“We see growth in the women,” she said, “With the gardening, maybe this will rub off, we hope,” she said.