Many Southtowne Rotarians have been to volunteer projects in Cofradia, Mexico and have donated scholarships to help kids get through school. The World Community Service Committee usually supports some project from the club budget.
Ted Rose owned an office supply store in Eureka, California and got the wrong bus while trying to find his way to a volcano in the state of Colima in Mexico. Instead of finding the volcano, he found Cofradia de Suchitlan; while he waited, some very poor kids told him about their lives. He has said that those kids saved his life. Ted’s life had not been threatened by outsiders; but the kids’ stories and his ability to help bought Ted alive.
Beginning with Rotary funds, Ted and (very importantly) his wife Susan Hill went on to develop a wonderful project. It started modestly; a Christmas party. Before too long they decided that if they were going to really have an impact, they needed to move to Cofradia.
The vast majority of rural Mexicans do not get past the third grade due to the cost of uniforms, books, and because the kids and their parents often do not think of education as a priority for a variety of reasons. Ted & Susan began by encouraging the kids and families to keep the kids in school. One encouragement was that school kids got to go on picnics and paddleboat rides (often with Rotarians). Books and uniforms were paid for with the proceeds of their scholarships that were often funded by Rotarians.
When those kids finished primary school, a new program was instituted to keep them in junior high, then in high school, then in college.
Besides keeping kids in school, Project Amigo did much more to help poor children in the area. They helped build 50 houses for the poor families in the city of Colima (with participation similar to Habitat), aided with earthquake damage to student houses, established libraries, provided glasses, clothing, books for kids, dental care, homework club, counseling. In order to stay in the program through high school and college, the kids had to follow the rules, perform service and do very well in school.
Project Amigo has expanded well beyond Cofradia so that the numbers of children in the state of Colima (including some bordering areas of Jalisco) that have an educational opportunity has increased. Ted has begun a relationship with a distributor who sells organic bananas. The distributor’s goal is to make sure that no child of one of their employees will have to pick bananas for a living. They have donated about $100,000 per year to help keep kids in school in the areas around their growing and distribution sites. (You can buy these bananas, which have a “Grow” label, in several Eugene grocery stores that sell organic produce.)
Recently Ted and Susan have stepped down in their leading role at Project Amigo, although they are still planning to spend a great deal of time there. Cindy and Coke Newell, with some help from their teenage daughters, have moved to Cofradia to take over the executive duties.
Consider the challenges of kids who have extremely little; their parents, brothers and sisters have not gone beyond the third grade and there was little hope for them to do other than that. Their life was likely hard labor like cutting sugar cane for the boys or helping around the house and garden for the girls. Some of their families are dysfunctional. These kids not only get through school, they do it with very high marks. They are heroes.
Hundreds have graduated from high school and more than thirty have graduated from college. They are business people, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and one was the mayor of the village. Now their families and the kids and families throughout the community know that there is a way out of the backbreaking labor and poverty.