For nearly 12 years people in Western North Carolina have been partnering with people in Western Panama to exchange ideas and culture while improving the lives of rural indigenous school children. This project began as a journey by Sandy Frazier, and now Jackson County Commissioner Mark Jones, to carry 300 lbs. of school supplies and money to a newly chartered Rotary Club in Boquete, Panama. Each year since, groups of people, sometimes as many as 32 individuals, have traveled over spring break to deliver supplies, labor in the schools, and conduct medical clinics. These groups have consisted of Rotarians; members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cullowhee; high school, community college, and university students; as well as community members.
To date, more than 4,800 lbs. of school and medical supplies have been transported; more than $48,000 in cash donations have been delivered; more than 3,600 labor hours have been worked, and more than 1,200 patients have been seen. Each participant has paid their own way and if the $1,200 to $1,700 cost is taken into consideration, nearly $275,000 has been invested in this project. Twelve schools have been renovated; a kitchen, lunchroom, and bathroom have been constructed, three water projects completed, one solar energy system installed; security fencing put in place; 11 medical clinics completed; and a Panamanian teacher was brought to Western North Carolina for eight weeks on a professional and cultural exchange trip.
Both the Sylva Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Franklin have decided to continue the partnership with the Club Rotario de Boquete as well as a fourth club from Casper, Wyo. These four Rotary clubs are pooling resources to help build three high school classrooms in a very remote village in the Caribbean Archipelago of Bocas del Toro. This project will take three years to complete, one classroom per year. Currently, less than 40 percent of the indigenous students from this village of 800 ever go on to high school. The 45 minute boat ride across open water prevents daily commuting, so unless a student can stay with a family member or the family can pay room and board (nearly impossible with an average yearly income of $1500), most students end their schooling at ninth grade. A group of students and adults will journey to Panama in the spring of 2017 to work on this project. If interested, contact Sandy Frazier at (828)369-1600 or Charles Wolfe at (828)586-4026 or watch for further announcements.
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