Tuesday, April 12, 2016

KIRF Field Report: Guatemala 2015/2016

On November 12, 2015, KIRF President, Mark Kirwin journeyed to Guatemala with fellow Rotarian Marty Armstrong to deliver medical supplies purchased by the members of the Rotary Club of Ventura to a Clinic that provides medical care and nutritional therapy to families in need. After arriving at the airport we traveled for hours to the remote town in the Highlands of Guatemala called Santo Tomas la Union in the state of Suchitepequez.

The Clinic is funded and managed by a Guatemalan based non-profit organization called Ajkun pa le Qatinimit (APQ), which is also known as Clinica Medica Cristiana. APQ receives support from its sister non-profit, NGO, the 501(c)(3) approved U.S. based organization Wachalal  (wachalal.org). Local Ventura emergency medical doctor Zachery Self manages the clinic. He works in hospitals in Ventura from time to time to raise funds for the Guatemala Clinic.

Mountain view from the roof of the clinic
Photo: Mark Kirwin
On Friday, our first full day in Santo Tomas La Union, we found out that Dr. Self and his Clinic is helping the local communities in their battle against child malnutrition. After witnessing Dr. Self examine a listless 3 year old boy suffering from malnutrition, he and I talked about ways that KIRF could assist in treating this condition that affects too many of the young children in this mountainous region of Southwest Guatemala.

Dr. Self advised us that in Guatemala, the face of poverty and hunger is young, indigenous and rural. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. This country faces a serious challenge to reduce chronic undernutrition, which is currently at 49.8% among children under 5 years old. Chronic under-nutrition in indigenous areas averages a shockingly high 69.5%. Fifty-three percent of the population lives in poverty, and 13 percent in extreme poverty in Guatemala.

Guatemala has a population of 14.7 million and ranks 133 out of 187 in the 2012 United Nations Human Development Index. The Gross National Income per capita each year is US$2,740. With a Gini index of 53.7, Guatemala is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

In order to address the local malnutrition crises, Dr. Self uses his non-profit medical clinic in Santo Tomas la Union to target the marginalized, impoverished population with tenuous food security. Specifically, it focuses on children from ages 0-5yrs, pregnant and nursing women, and chronically ill adults. In their first year of operation last year, they treated approximately 50 people. Here is the link to their blog regarding the nutrition program: https://ajkunpaleqatinimit.wordpress.com

With KIRF’s aid, Dr. Self will be able to purchase additional nutrition food supplements to address this rural tragedy that is causing young children here unnecessary misery that includes reduced vitality, stature, as well as the the long-term effects of reduced immune function and developmental delays from the inadequate intake of protein and other nutrients.

Bars the clinic previously used made specifically to assist the
treating malnutrition. With KIRF’s aid, the clinic is working
with more local sources to make the nutrition supplements.

On Saturday in Tomas de la Union we asked Dr. Self if we could visit the local schools to see if we could help with supplies. Dr. Self introduced us to several teachers from the area. We visited the first school and found out that it lacked necessary workbooks and other study materials.

Some of the local children waiting for a festival at the school. Photo: Mark Kirwin
Later that morning we drove about 45 minutes out of town on very rough roads full of gullies from the recent rain’s run off to visit a second school. The primary school we visited was in another impoverished area called San Pablo Jocopilas. A teacher there, Senora Ovalle, who assisted us with the assessment, told me that the primary school had 150 students. The students did not have any study materials to complete their assignments or tests. With funding provided by KIRF, and volunteers organized by the medical clinic, the needed study materials were purchased locally and distributed directly to the students just before the beginning of the Spring semester in January 2016. Now, through KIRF’s help, these students have the necessary workbooks, pencils, pens and Spanish dictionaries to help with their lessons for the rest of the year.

Above photos: Mark Kirwin

It is only with your very kind donations that KIRF was able to assist the Clinic’s nutrition program and provide these students with the study materials they needed to receive an education and have opportunities for a better life.

Thank you,

President, Co-Founder KIRF

Friday, August 14, 2015

KIRF's assistance with Nepal disaster relief continues: School to rebuild in Majhguan, Nepal

Badly damaged Shree Majhgaun Lower Secondary School
in Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake.
We are still assisting with the earthquake disaster relief efforts in Nepal.  KIRF has now partnered with Classroom in the Clouds to help rebuild of  a severely damaged Lower Secondary School  located in Majhgaun, a small village in Mirge VDC in Dolkha, Nepal.  This school is located approximately 180km from the capital city of  Kathmandu. The school is one of seven schools that serves the population of  approximately 3,500 villagers in the surrounding  Tamang, Chhetri and Dalit communities. Classroom in the Clouds was founded by Dawa Geljen Sherpa and a few Everest mountaineers in order to help local children get access to a good education in their remote villages in the Himalaya so they can live a better life.  For more information about Classroom in the Clouds, please see their website: classroomsintheclouds.org

We are $7,000 short of the total necessary funds to rebuild the school.

Any donations for this effort are most appreciated.

You can make a donation to Kirwin International Relief Foundation (KIRF) at our website: kirfaid.org/donate.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Field Report: Nepal Earthquake Relief, May 2015

As we approached the airport in Kathmandu, after many hours of travel through London and Delhi, I got two impressions: (1) Why were there pallets of what appeared to be aid stacked on the side of the airport, and (2) The city was still standing- maybe the devastation was not so bad….?  Unfortunately, my first impression was based on reality. After we landed, we were advised that much well intended aid had not yet made it out of customs to assist the earthquake victims.

Tragically, I found out over the next few days, that my second impression of the city was not based on reality. I had only glimpsed a few areas that were not that badly damaged.  My co-KIRF volunteer and fellow Rotarian, Steve, and I came to realize that the devastation to Kathmandu and Nepal is immense, affecting most of the city and the countryside in the region.

The earthquake’s massive destruction became apparent on the first day of assessment work, when I went for an early morning jet-lagged run through the Pashupantinath Shiva Temple next to the Hotel Indreni where we are staying. Sadly, like many of the older structures throughout the Country, it had suffered severe damage from the earthquake.

The night before we had a meeting with people from the local Rotary Club of Bagmati, such as the charismatic Akhil, and a member of the Kathmandu Lions club, Anoj (our lead contact, and brother of the very generous supporter of this trip-Anup, the owner of our local Ventura restaurant Himalaya).   We decided at that meeting that their Rotary Club past president (who turned out to be a very kind and generous man in is how measure for the local community- assisting the poor with education and micro finance for local women) Bidur would be our guide to help us assess some rural hill villages about 2 ½ hours outside of Kathmandu.

The next day, Friday, May 15, Bidur drove us, and another Bagmati Rotarian, Bijay, on dirt roads through the steep hillsides and sub-tropical forest area just outside of Kathmandu, using four wheel drive to access the villages. After several hours of driving, we stopped on the side of a hill because a slide had blocked the road.  This is where we met Mr. Shakya who told us that most of the 55 houses in the village of Hille were destroyed by the quake.

In Hille we walked through the village, meeting families and talking with the men and women who had suffered great losses as we assessed the damage and found out what they needed. Next we traveled to another village nearby named Kharse where 50 houses had been severely damaged.

Again, through our local interpreter we spoke with the men and women of the village and then, after being offered tea, we discussed their roofing material needs.

From these assessments speaking with the earthquake survivors, we learned that they did not need food, clothes or water. Unanimously they told us they needed shelter: the monsoons were only six weeks away. (!)  We discussed their needs with them and they told us that they could reuse some of the materials from the destroyed houses, and acquire wood from the forests if needed.  However, they desperately needed building materials for roofs.  They decided that the most economical and safest shelters they could rebuild would be one story homes with wood walls and zinc (corrugated sheet metal) roofing.  Each new home would take about six days to build. Each house needed 12 sheets of 12’ x 3.5 feet zinc or two bundles of zinc which are sold locally in groups of six sheets.  We determined that they needed more hammers, tin snips and nails to build the structures.

The photos below are of one such structure that one of the elders built after the earthquake in Hille village.

We decided that we had enough donated funds to purchase enough zinc to rebuild the roofs in the villages of Hille and Kharse, or a total of 105 homes.

The next day, May 16, we traveled to what we were told was the low cast community of the Putuwar family which lives in Ichngo.  As I have seen on many previous trips, it is often the urban poor who suffer the most from disasters because of the do not have access to food as the day labor jobs cease. This was especially true in Nepal with back to back major earthquakes. Over half the city population had left Kathmandu after the second quake because safty fears and to be with their families in the country.

Ichango had about 100 homes, 68 were totally destroyed.

According to the people of Ichango , the best aid that we could provide them was enough rice and soy protein to sustain one family for a week and some waterproof tarps for temporary shelter. This area was very close to a government station and we were told that the residents hoped that they would be able to secure the badly needed zinc through their government representative (who helped us assess needs in the  bottom right picture).

Later that day we visited the village of Champi, about an hour drive from Kathmandu.  In this area, the local wildlife and the villagers routinely come into conflict in tragic ways. We were told that about four people per year are killed by leopards or tigers.

In this village I was able to interview a man (lower picture to the left, he standing to the far right of photo) who was 94 years old.  He told me that he was living when the last big quake hit Nepal approximatly 84 years ago.  He told me that the the houses were only one-story then and less lives were lost due to falling walls. A story that many Nepalese repeated to me.  I also heard from local people that the death toll  of the current earthquake disaster was well over 10,000 people, with many people tragically still missing underneath the rubble.   In the photo below the man to the left is pointing to where the sister of other man, standing to the right, was killed. He is still wearing his white mourning clothes.

Yet, there is still much hope for the children.

The next few days were spent negotiating prices for rice, soy protein, zinc, nails and tools.

We then delivered the rice and soy protein to the village of Ichngo. The Bagmati Rotarians and Roteracts delivered the zinc to the villages later after some serious on-site negotiations regarding distribution!

Many thank  you's  to all who helped and partnered with KIRF to make this Nepal relief trip a success!


P. Mark Kirwin, Esq.
Founder, President KIRF

Thursday, November 13, 2014

School Report from the Shekhwara Village School: A Good Harvest

The Shekhwara Village School (formerly known and founded as the Kirwin James International School)  is doing great!

As the Fall season is upon us here in the United States, it is always a healthy mental exercise to be reminded of how much we have to be thankful for. And, it is also important to recall how our good deeds have helped others. I call that having a "Good Harvest" as in the adage "you reap what you sow."

Even small things done with love can make a huge impact in another person's life: a few words of support to a friend, a smile of encouragement to a young student, a small online donation to a cause you feel is worthy, or  a forgiveness of a small debt. Each small deed, each good act that helps another, adds up to a Good Harvest.

Below are a few examples of our donor's Good Harvest this Fall with their support of KIRF's "Shekhwara India Project." The Shekhwara India Project helps support the educational and health care programs that are free for local families in need at the Shekhwara Village School in rural Bihar near Bodhgaya. The school was founded in 2009 as the Kirwin James International School.

We are grateful to each donor of KIRF's ongoing "Shekhwara India Project."

The Shekhwara India Project is currently helping provide a high quality academic education for nearly a 100  rural kids who live in villages without electricity or indoor plumbing near Bodhgaya, India. Without donor support of the Shekhwara Village School these kids would not have access to a superior  Indian-standards based academic education. And, they especially would not be getting it (as well as their textbooks, educational supplies, sports equipment and school uniforms) for free. 

Please read on for a brief report from the school's on-site administrator in India:

"Our School is running very well.
The big festival season is over now.
About 90 to 95 students are coming everyday.
They are coming to the school regularly and studying very hard and carefully. They are all local rural village students who understand the importance of education.
Many have gone to the local government school as well as our KIRF school. Some younger students said that our school education is better.
Each of our four teachers work very hard and enjoy teaching our students carefully and heartily.

Snacks - Students get snacks everyday in lunch time. Some of them experience food insecurity regularly so the food is received with gratitude.

Sweaters - Winter session is started here. We distributed the donated sweaters to 95 students. They are very happy to get their new sweaters.
They give thanks to all of the donors who are continuing their generous support of our school.
We all are very grateful to all of you."

And, he wrote in an earlier report:

"Our sewing center is running very well. About 25 to 30 girls come every day.
Some new girls are also coming after the Fall admission in their sewing class.
Some older girls have since been married and they are no longer coming. Their lives are with their husband's families. But they are still sewing at their in-laws and are earning money according to their families' reports.
Thanking You,

In addition, the local wells funded by KIRF, a crucial source of water for many of the local families in nearby villages, are being maintained regularly and are in working order per our last "well report". 

The school's KIRF Sewing Centre vocational training program for young and married women is going strong with the new sewing machines purchased this year and supplies and excellent sewing instructor. 

Local families are still able to get health assessments and basic care on the weekend's at the school's on-site Kirwin International Health Clinic.

From all of us here and in rural Bihar, India...

Thank you and Namaste!

Angela R. Kirwin
Kirwin International Relief Foundation

Scroll down to see more recent photos taken at the Shekhwara Village School:

**We received the above school report from the administrator of the Shekhwara Village School on November 13, 2014. It was edited for brevity by KIRF's Co-Founder, Angela R. Kirwin.