Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Being Called?

There is an interesting story in the Old Testament Book of Samuel where Samuel, a boy helping an elderly priest, is awakened at night by a voice calling his name. Because the only other person around is the man down the hall, Samuel runs to see what the old priest wants. The old man is irritated because he did not call the boy and tells the boy to go back to bed. When the situation repeats two more times, the priest realizes that Samuel IS being called, not for work but for LIFE, and Samuel's life changes forever. The lesson I take from this story is that our true calling often is not obvious to us.

I thought of this story on Saturday night when we attended the Santa Barbara Rotaract Club meeting. Allison Radke, a youth minister who is part of our group and who is fluent in Spanish, served as interpretor. Rotaract members are people ranging from college age to less than thirty years old. This club inlcudes college students, an auto mechanic, attorneys, teachers, government administrators and others. As the meeting was about to start, Allison said in English "I just had an idea." Then she asked a question in Spanish that she told us was "How many people here use Whatsapp?" Almost all the Rotaractors raised their hands. After a brief explanation, the club members said that they would help us to effect our hope to establish internet communications between elementary kids in Las Brisas del Pinal and kids in the Chequamegon Bay area. When Allison explained the frustration that the teachers in Las Brisas had trying to project a Facebook video through their LCD projector, the Rotaractors pulled out their LCD projector and said "Here's how you do this . . .We will help." They responded immediately to our call for help. When my wife Becky quietly asked me, "who in the Ashland area is going to work with this vibrant group of young professionals," I replied, "They have not yet been called."

Earlier on Saturday morning, I wondered if I was hearing "a call" or just another solicitation when the leaders of the Santa Barbara Rotary Club met with our small group. They explained that the international Rotary Foundation and UNICEF (the United Nations International Child and Education Fund) had selected Honduras as one of five countries in the world for a pilot project promoting clean water and sanitary practices to reduce widespread diarrheal illness in children and communities and to help girls to stay in school past sixth grade. The local Rotarians asked if we would be the international sponsors for their projecct for the Department of Santa Barbara (about the area of Ashland and Bayfield counties in Wisconsin). The minimum contribution for us to be a sponsor is $30,000, including a matching contribution from the Rotary Foundation. In any case, we would need to raise at least $10,000 in order to be a WASH-in-Schools sponsor.

It seems like a risky proposition. The Santa Barbara Rotarians said that the project for Honduras is organized by their Rotary District to include all the Rotary Clubs in Honduras. The pilot project for the Department of Santa Barbara involves selecting at least five schools, and requires installing any necessary infrastructire, curriulum adoption, teacher training, and implementation within one year. The project requires before and after testing for measureable improvements and documentation that the pilot projects will continue after the international funding runs out.

Steve Rith-Najarian is a physician on our LARA team who is a national leader in helping Native Americans reduce the incidence of diabetes-related illness on reservations. He said there is no doubt about the serious need to improve access to clean water and to adopt better sanitation in schools and communities, but to expect a measurable change by the end of 2018 is unrealistic. I agreed that the project expectations are unrealistic, but it is appropriate to start small in these ambitious initiatives so that future projects can improve on the lessons learned from the preliminary projects. After all, there are many more than five countries plagued by contaminated water supplies and diarrheal illness.

Allison Radke facilitated a conversation about the project with the kindergarten teachers in Las Brisas del Pinal. This barrio on the outskirts of Santa Barbara has experienced rapid growth as families from small mountain villages come to the city in hopes of finding employment. These teachers know how little most children and their families understand the need for sanitary practices. They told us that there is no question about the huge scope of the problem, but added "You have to start somewhere, and Honduras is a good place to start." They said that the parents association in Las Brisas has become well aware of the problem, and they make sure that the bathrooms at the kindergarten are well supplied with soap and toilet paper. Even so, water runs into the community water supply only two days per week, and they have to ration use so that their stored supply does not run out.

Is a request of this scope just another of many solicitations for a hopeless cause, or is this our calling to take small, deliberate steps to improve children's and communities' access to clean water and adequate sanitation? Is it just coincidence that we are faced with a decision on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Can our small steps lead to a change of the scope of Rotary's commitment decades ago to eliminate polio from the world? Some of our group tired of the long discussion we had after dinner to determine whether we can commit to be a sponsor. One member said, "I just want to do the work. I can't deal with writing proposals or deciding who is responsible for documenting how every penny is spent. There is a great need. Let's not hesitate to do something about it." Even so, he recognized that someone needs to design projects, write proposals, and track progress. He said, "I want to help, but not with the bureaucracy.

In the end, we decided that we will raise $35,000, which we hope we can achieve by raising $10,000 from clubs and our communities and multiply with matching contributions from our Rotary District and the Rotary Foundation. Even if we cannot get matching contributions, $35,000 may not be enough for five separate, pilot projects. All of our clubs in the northern USA take pride in our abundant, clean water. People in the poor communities in Honduras did not consciously decide to contaminate their water supplies any more than the people of Ashland and Barksdale chose to contaminate theirs. Finding sustainable solutions to provide clean water "has to start somewhere."

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