Local Rotary Club reaches out to help orphans

FAIRMONT – Home is a humble orphanage called Hogar Juan Pablo II for 17 children with AIDS in the city of Asuncion, Paraguay.

The orphanage has two small bedrooms and a yard of dirt, but the children’s faces wore only smiles, recalled Jodie Whitmore following a visit last year to see family friends in Asuncion, Paraguay.

When her group showed up at the orphanage with armfuls of fresh fruits and vegetables, they were met with euphoria. The only other request from staff was for meat, as they had none.

Returning home, Whitmore wanted to do more to help these children. She turned to the Rotary Club, and her fellow Rotarians responded.

The local board voted to proceed with an international project to benefit the orphanage. The Fairmont club will partner with a Rotary Club in Paraguay.

For international projects like this, Rotary has a policy to buy local whenever possible. The Paraguayan host club – Catedral Asuncion – will purchase the supplies for the orphanage, which will not only help the orphans but also the local economy.

“They’re your feet on the ground, and they’ll help to protect your investment,” explained Tim Murphy, district Rotary president, to the Fairmont club.

The next step is to find out the orphanage’s specific needs, determine the cost and raise the money, according to Rotarian Ken Wolfgram of Fairmont.

The local club won’t fund the full cost of the project, whatever it may be. Multiple clubs at the district level will work together, and the Fairmont Rotarians will likely be eligible for district and global grants. The district will match every dollar raised, while the global grant will provide $3.50 for every $1. Wolfgram estimated the process could take anywhere from one to three years.

“We have to be careful not to instill our values on them,” said Whitmore, describing the orphanage staff’s excitement when they were able to replace a tiny dilapidated refrigerator with a slightly newer, larger refrigerator. “… We have to be careful not to step on toes and tell them what they need.”

Visiting Fairmont recently to talk about the orphanage’s needs was Whitmore’s friend, Tachi Cazal. Cazal is a native of Paraguay who has been living in the United States for 30 years. It was through his family in Paraguay that Whitmore came to learn about Hogar Juan Pablo II.

“Why bother?” was the initial reaction when nuns opened the doors of the orphanage for these children, Cazal said.

“They were told it was a short-term investment. These children won’t live,” he said.

But with modern medicine, most of the children are living happy, healthy lives. The medicine they need is not cheap though, nor is the food to feed these growing children, nor their schooling. They range in age from 3-17 years, and the older orphans are in need of larger beds.

“We always tend to complain about the things we don’t have, and not think about the things we do have,” Cazal said.

A construction project recently began to expand the orphanage, which will help with space issues, but educational supplies are needed as well. All of these expenses will be taken into account for the international Rotary project.

“The needs are so much … but there’s always a smile on their faces, despite having so little,” Cazal said. “It’s a good lesson for me, and for others.”