More than 100 Guatemalan women have been helped financially by the Interact Club of Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, California; its sponsoring Rotary Club of San Mateo; and the nonprofit group Namaste Direct. Over the years, about 100 Hillsdale Interactors have joined chaperone Rotarians and teachers on trips to Antigua, a city in Guatemala’s central highlands, to meet the women who have received grants funded through student-led fundraising events including “penny war” collections and taco dinners.
Nearly half of all Guatemalans live on less than $5.50 a day.
The site visits are eye-openers for the students, who see how microloans, financial literacy workshops, and mentorship have empowered the women, says Namaste Direct’s founder and chief executive, Robert Graham. He cites Namaste’s policy of charging lower interest rates than many other nongovernmental organizations (loans range from a few hundred dollars to $4,000), its adherence to Western consulting methodologies, and Rotary involvement as major reasons for the program’s success. “Many women have corner convenience stores, while others purchase clothing and household goods in bulk for resale at the local market,” Graham says. Other beneficiaries include a nut vendor, a chicken butcher, and a chocolatier.
In the Rotary Club of Vapi’s first 20 years, club members oversaw the establishment of a school, a hospital, and a college. “Our club created an entire town worth residing in,” says Ketan Patel. In 2011, seeking a way to honor the RI presidency of club member Kalyan Banerjee, the Rotarians embarked on a project to provide free kidney dialysis that continues to this day. Nearly 3,800 patients have received more than 32,000 procedures. “The entire treatment is free of charge,” says Patel. The cost of the dialysis project is covered by Rotarian and community contributions, along with club fundraising.
— BRAD WEBBER
• This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.