Bolivia is known for having the highest rural poverty rate in the world with 94 percent of the population not even meeting the level for adequate survival, according to the Mano a Mano organization.
Mano a Mano, meaning “hand in hand” in Spanish, is a nonprofit based in St. Paul with offices in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The organization, founded in 1994, focuses on helping Bolivians any way it can – from creating a health clinic or school to fixing roads or improving water. It is unique in that the Bolivians decide what projects are most important in their communities.
Last year the Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale Rotary sparked interest in helping the organization.
Jim Benshoof, a Rotarian, and his wife, Marsha, had previously been host parents to a Bolivian child through a Rotary exchange program. It was through that child that Benshoof found a passion for helping Bolivia. The Benshoofs have since traveled to Bolivia to help locals and visit the child they housed several years ago.
Benshoof learned of Mano a Mano not long ago and brought it to the attention of the Rotary.
The Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale Rotary partnered with the Brooklyn Park Rotary and Minnetonka Rotary to raise funds to help the organization.
In addition, Benshoof’s Rotary applied for a grant from the Rotary District 5950. Each year the district accepts applications and approves grants for rotaries in the area. In December, the Rotary was approved for a $6,000 grant.
Each participating Rotary raised $1,000 each, for a total of $9,000.
The money was used to help fund the shipment of a 40-foot container filled with needed supplies, but the money the Rotaries raised only covered a portion of the cost. According to Nate Knatterud, director of communications and research for Mano a Mano, the organization used to be able to ship containers for free but now it costs $10,000 to $14,000 to ship one container.
Once additional fees are added it could cost a total of nearly $20,000. Mano a Mano earns funds from other organizations and individuals to help with sending the containers to Bolivia.
“It’s definitely a struggle each shipment now,” Knatterud said.
The funds raised by the Rotaries is a significant help for Mano a Mano.
“We basically need the seed money for any project,” Knatterud said. “Without that we wouldn’t be able to do any of the projects we do.”
In January members of each Rotary visited the St. Paul location to pack the container with supplies. The volunteers packed 38,000 pounds of supplies to be shipped to Bolivia.
The supplies are donated from area hospitals, companies, schools and individuals rather than being dumped in landfills.
The Rotaries packed wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, hospital beds, linens, gloves, medical instruments, surgical supplies, airplane parts, wound care supplies, machine tools, school and office supplies and more. The supplies valued nearly $500,000.
“The sweat equity was a big part for us,” said Mac Gordon, president of the Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale Rotary. “It was such a fun time. We had a blast doing it. It was a fun way for us to connect as a group with the other two clubs and Mano a Mano. It was really rewarding.”
The container would be driven to New York where it would travel by ocean freight through the Panama Canal to Chile and eventually arrive in Bolivia. It would take an additional few months for the container to clear customs before the supplies could be distributed to 16 hospitals, 33 health centers, 72 clinics, 12 jails and 431 individuals.
Since its inception in 1994, Mano a Mano has shipped 3.5 million pounds of supplies valued at $14 million to Bolivia, built 145 clinics that help 700,000 Bolivians resulting in a decrease of infant mortality rate by more than 92 percent, improved 1,400 kilometers of roads, constructed seven large water reservoirs and 170 water ponds, built 49 schools and provided emergency air rescue to more than 2,100 individuals.
The Rotaries were happy to be a small part in helping Bolivians in need.
“We are on organization that is based on trying to help and support organizations, individuals and families that can’t help themselves,” Gordon said. “To see the end result… to see the amount of stuff in there that’s going to help families and individuals is pretty amazing. It’s great. We love it.”
Info: manoamano.org or cnhr-rotary.org.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]