The Buffalo Grove Rotary Club's mission trip to Guatemala is five months away, but relief efforts have already begun.
For the past four years, Rotarians from the village and other nearby clubs have traveled to Guatemala, where they've donated time, supplies and physical labor to make a direct difference in residents' lives.
"It's very simple to write a check — and that's great — but nothing really beats getting people on the ground and participating in the projects," said Dan Wolf, who will participate in his fourth trip in February 2011.
A handful of Buffalo Grove Rotarians sign up for the project each year. Specific projects differ for each trip, and have included sanding and staining furniture, building bunk beds, and covering windows with wire mesh to keep vampire bats out of a school dormitory.
In January, volunteers completed their most ambitious project to date — building an entire library.
All of the projects are done at Ak'Tenamit, a boarding school in the jungle of eastern Guatemala that serves indigenous Mayans in grade and high school.
"I can't even describe to you what a rewarding project this is," Wolf said.
"The things we've done aren't things they couldn't do themselves," he added. "The work we do is not as important as the relationships we build down there and let them know that they have support from Rotary."
Wolf will be among Buffalo Grove's Rotarians who return to Guatemala this winter. Part of their mission will be to deliver supplies to Ak'Tenamit, which is in need of toiletries, over-the-counter medications, first aid products, school supplies, new or gently used clothing and athletic equipment. (Click here for a more detailed list of requested items.) The goal is for each volunteer to arrive with a suitcase filled with donated items.
"They don't just start handing this stuff out," Wolf said. "[Students] attend their classes, participate in the labor, and in exchange they are provided with the supplies and healthcare."
Wolf described the volunteer experience as "transforming."
"It's so productive and useful. But until you do it, it's easy to think, 'I could never go to a foreign country and do this," he said.
Rotarian Stephen Legge has already signed up for his second trip after having a life-changing experience as a project participant.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to do good for people. As much as you're doing it for them, you also come out with some personal pride," said Legge, who is considering bringing his teenage daughter on the next trip.
In addition to bringing supplies for the students, Rotary members will provide water filtration systems to area residents. Made from two five-gallon buckets connected by a filter, the dispensers convert contaminated water into clean drinking water. Though the construction is fairly simple, the devices save lives by providing families with their only source of potable water, Wolf said.
Rotarians have purchased and shipped the systems to underdeveloped parts of the world, where volunteers teach locals how to install and maintain them.
The systems were demonstrated at Buffalo Grove Days, where members of the public watched as apple juice from the top bucket emerged as clear water from the spout.
"You can put one of these in a home, and the kids will live," Wolf said.
Wolf is collecting supply donations at his law office in Buffalo Grove. For more information or to arrange to make a donation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 847-459-4999.
To learn more about the water filtration project or to sponsor a system for a family with a $50 donation, call Legge at 847-997-2427.