Guatemala and Zimbabwe, Africa, lie oceans and continents apartfrom each other – and Minnesota. But thanks to the global reach of Rotary International, its local and area clubs and non-profit partners, both countries are now better equipped to provide maternal health and wellness of newborn babies and children. Hospitals in both countries this summer received containers of essential medical equipment for infant delivery, and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, also received supplies to create a sustainable farm garden to combat malnutrition. A $210,000 international grant, originating and managed by the Rotary Club of Edina, made these projects possible.
Success in the international grants realm is not a short-game, nor one for the non-persistent. Shelly Loberg, whose day job is Vice President of Edina Chamber of Commerce while serving as President- Elect of the Rotary Club of Edina, stepped up to the challenge and initiated application for the grant. That was nearly three years ago. Add to that global shipping challenges and government holding times for container inspections – five weeks in the case of Guatemala.
“It’s a tremendous practice in patience,” Loberg acknowledged, but noted it has been fulfilling as she sees it to completion. One significant outcome of the assistance is the Pediatric Department of the United Bulawayo Hospitals in Zimbabwe is now reopen after having been closed for 20 years.
Escuintla, Guatemala
The Guatemala connection solidified in 2017 when Rotary Club of Edina’s then-Director of International Service, Gary Pedersen, secured funding to drill a well for delivery of sanitary water to villages outside of Escuintla. Since then, Minnesota Rotarians have made mission trips visits to the National Hospital in Escuintla and developed close connections with the hospital’s husband-wife doctors, Willy Menendez and Sofia Posadas. The hospital delivers the majority of babies in all of Guatemala – an average of 40 per day. There are, unfortunately, 22 deaths out of 1,000 live births in Guatemala, according data collected by The World Bank. The hospital is challenged by insufficient access to sanitary water, and necessary medical supplies.
Enter Rotary and its capacity for humanitarian service. Loberg did her homework to find partners and created an impressive $210,000 budget that led to a successful grant from the Rotary International World Fund which prioritizes support of women’s maternal health and infant and child wellness globally. Of the total, $30,000 came from Minnesota’s Rotary International District 5950, two clubs in Edina and Minneapolis, Eden Prairie and two Guatemalan organizations. Shipments that arrived in Guatemala this summer included recliners for new moms and babies, personal protective equipment, bassinets, incubators, infant warmers, pediatric vein finders and other baby delivery and wellness equipment.
“I want to thank you for the equipment and supplies,” wrote Posadas, sub-head of the Pediatrics Department at the Escuintla National Hospital. “It will help us to improve our attention and to help us fight against infant mortality that is very high in our country.”
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe The Pediatric Department of the United Bulawayo Hospitals serving the area had been closed for 20 years. It has reopened with this project. Loberg, working with non-profit MATTER, connected with the African Rotary Club of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to improve access to health. The project supplied maternity and pediatric wards with delivery beds, infant warmers, infant resuscitators and ultrasound machines. Additionally, the partners established a hospital farm garden to provide sustainable nutrition to the hospital’s nearly 600 patients per month. Offerings of food had been sporadic and lacking in nutritional value. Rotary provided farming tools and equipment, solar pumps, fencing and shade houses for plant nursery production of chaya trees, a highly nutritious spinach-like crop commonly used with eggs in soups and stews in the region. Local residents are being trained to manage and run the farm with a portion of produce sold to local restaurants and lodges to provide operating income.
Overall, the hope of these holistic grant-funded initiatives is to provide local residents with the education and tools they need to carry on and serve as a model for the surrounding communities. Zimbabwe’s government has goals of reducing mortality due to malnutrition.
“Bringing both desperately needed equipment and the means to develop an on-site nutrition garden at the hospital was such a meaningful experience for me from start to finish,” Loberg said. “What I put into this project on a personal level I got back tenfold through amazing friendships that have been made.”
Navigating the Process
Rotary International has a specific process to vet and manage global grants of $30,000 and higher. Loberg said a big part is “building trust and relationships with Rotarians you’ll never meet in person.” A partnering Rotary Club in the project area is required, as well as a collaborating community partner. These Edina projects were aided, in part, by an anonymous gift to the Rotary Club of Edina, with a percentage of the funds dedicated to assist maternal wellness and infant health. All partner funding had to be in hand before Rotary International World Fund approved and released its $45,000 to execute the Bulawayo grant. From there, Loberg said, there are “sustainability” requirements, including pages of online reporting and documentation: that the equipment has arrived, been installed and is being maintained correctly, and that Rotary is being recognized for the gifts.
Non-profit (NGO) MATTER was an ideal project partner for Rotary with expertise and staff with 20 years of experience fundraising and procuring medical supplies and repurposed equipment via donations from hospitals in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The average wholesale value of containers of medical equipment and supplies MATTER ships is $390,000. For the nutrition garden project, they connected with Zimbabwe’s Love For Africa and the Angel of Hope Foundation, run by a man named Blessing Munyenyiwa, known to MATTER staff. Munyenyiwa’s mother, in turn, connected the group to the Bulawayo Rotary Club, where she served as president.
“In the end, we were very pleased to help the Pediatric Department reopen for the first time in 20 years,” said Chris Newhouse, Executive Director of Sustainability at MATTER. Persistence of the club and Shelly Loberg really paid off, Newhouse said. “Without her, I’m not sure we would have gotten to the finish line of the grants in Guatemala and Zimbabwe.”