Rotarian recounts visit to Guatemalan village

Civic clubs can make contributions to ease poverty and literacy in many nations around the world, a member of a Hot Springs organization told the Pine Bluff Rotary Club Tuesday.

Paul Bridges, a member of the Hot Springs Village Rotary Club, said the international civic organization sponsors the village Ak’Tenamit in Guatemala, a Central American country of 13 million bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.

Many of the village’s residents are Mayan and speak Spanish.

Travel to and from the village is by boat, he told Pine Bluff Rotarians, and volunteers help provide “health care services and vocational education” to some 26,000 Mayans in the region.

Bridges and Rotarians from Arkansas traveled to Ak’Tenamit, teaching English classes and bringing supplies for the school established in the village. They reached Ak’Tenamit by water taxi on the Rio Dulce River. The school bus is a boat.

Rotarians underwrite a dental clinic boat on the river, he explained, in a nation where only 5 percent of the population graduates from high school and the daily diet for many consists of beans and rice.

Volunteers who work in the village for six months to three years receive an annual stipend of $1,800, Bridges said. He said he felt humbled to work alongside the volunteers in the isolated environment.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Rotary does make a difference.”

Donations are used to pay for health and educational programs, Bridges added, noting that $100 will provide textbooks to a high school student for a year.