By Donald Q. Smith, a member of the Rotary Club of Portland Pearl, Minnesota, USA.
If teenage girls from a barrio of suburban San José, Costa Rica, earn a high school diploma, their quality of life is likely to improve.
And if their mothers learn cooking skills, their lives, too, will be changed.
Those have been the goals of two successful projects by the Rotary clubs of Portland Pearl, Oregon, USA, and Belén, Belén, Costa Rica, both funded in part by grants from The Rotary Foundation.
The two clubs forged their first links at a project fair hosted by Central America Rotarians. Four years ago, a US$54,000 project equipped a culinary room at the Suri School, just outside Costa Rica’s capital. Through the vocational training they receive, women learn skills that could lead to work in the restaurants or hotels of San José or as paid domestic help.
“The kitchen gives them an opportunity for better jobs,” says María Eugenia Mondragón, past president of the Belén Club.
Her husband, Victor Mata Chacon, president-elect of the club, said the quality of the installation, and the quantity of equipment, bring praise from outside food experts.
“Renowned chefs have come in to teach classes here,” he says. “They say they don’t have anything like this in their kitchens. They should be very proud of it.”
The two clubs collaborated a second time on a computer lab for 130 female students (ages 13-18) with a total Rotary investment of $18,500. Nineteen workstations and two printers will be linked when the room opens this summer.
On a visit to Costa Rica in March, my wife, Nancy, and I toured the school. We were joined by Belén Rotarians for a delicious chicken lasagna lunch prepared by women who study in the kitchen. On the wall near the entrance door is a plaque commemorating the contribution of Rotarians.
I have observed Rotary service projects from Northern Ireland to South Africa in my travels. I have experienced the internationality of Rotary through Rotary Youth Exchange. But this was the first time I have actually witnessed the results of matching grants initiated by my own Rotary Club.
Because of these grants, mothers will find jobs. Young women will go to university. In a community suffering from high unemployment, poverty, drugs, teen pregnancy, and single-parent homes, women have a new hope.
Donald Q. Smith is the former editor and publisher of the Monticello, Minnesota, Times; he lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is a freelance journalist and member of the Portland Pearl Rotary Club. He’s a past president of both the Portland Pearl and Monticello Rotary clubs.