Home' Rotary Down Under : February 2013 Contents RotaRy StoRieS
an idea of their needs and what Rotarians might be able
to do. We asked the nurses and doctors, “What could you
use?” They said, “Maybe some aspirin and some Band-
Aids.” I said, “No, what do you need?” The nurses actually
took a step back. They didn’t know what to ask for. Finally,
a doctor said, “Do you suppose you could get us some
beds?” We said, “Oh, yeah.” They said, “Really?” Then we
found out that the maternity area had no birthing tables.
The operating room had no anaesthesia.
We learned, too, that water is not safe to drink
anywhere on the island. Because Christmas Island is a
coral atoll – basically the top of an old volcano – there’s
little fresh water. There are no rivers, no lakes. The only
water they have, other than rainwater, comes from what
they call “freshwater lenses”. If you take a shovel and dig
about six feet down through the sand, you’ll hit a lens,
which is a pocket of semi-fresh water that’s floating on
top of salt water.
Almost everybody has one or two pigs in the yard,
and the pigs’ urine trickles down through the sand and
contaminates the freshwater lenses. That makes the water
phenomenally high in nitrates, which causes severe health
problems in pregnant women and babies. And there’s E.
coli and all kinds of other bacteria in it too, so everyone
gets a lot of diarrhoea and internal infections.
At the end of that week, we came away with a huge list
of things the people needed. But there weren’t any Rotary
clubs in Kiribati, so we couldn’t apply for a Matching Grant
from The Rotary Foundation. Fortunately, we found out
that our District would let us use another type of grant
in a country without Rotary clubs. So we formed a group
called Friends of Christmas Island, and we put together
three of these grants. We got a lot of outside help from
people in the fly-fishing community.
Our first delivery was a load of major medical items,
which we acquired from an orthopaedic clinic that had
gone out of business. We put them in wooden crates, put
the crates in a 20-foot container, and sent it to Hawaii.
There the crates came out of the container, then went on
a 110-foot ship to be transported to the island. It was a
time-consuming and costly endeavour. We also shipped
an 18,000-pound septic tank pumping truck on a C-17
Globemaster provided by the US military. You just have to
say, “ There’s nothing you can’t do,” and do it.
Remote Kiritimati Island is a haven for salt-water
US Rotarian’s holiday culminates in plea for a
humble Easter Candle
Return visit leads to meeting with Parish council
of 500 people
Rotary Foundation grants led to container loads
of medical and clean water supplies
Rotary Club of Kiritimati Chartered in August
“There are no minerals in the soil,
no natural resources, so there
aren’t many things the people can
manufacture. It was astonishing to see
how little the islanders have.”
Sharon and I took our granddaughter, who was nine, to
help out on the island. One new mother named a baby after
her. For a few years, the kids would ask, “How’s Jessica?”
We realised we had to figure out how to get a Rotary
club in Kiribati. With Rotarians from Fiji (about 2000 miles
away), we helped organise the Rotar y Club of Kiritimati,
which was chartered in August 2008. Biita was treasurer.
Now our group is putting toilets and hand-washing
stations at four schools on the island. That project, which
is funded with a Matching Grant, is about three-quarters
complete. One benefit is that it will help the girls finish
high school; otherwise, they quit school when they start
having their period, because they need privacy – they just
can’t go out in the bush anymore. We put together another
Matching Grant project to supply 600 ceramic water filters.
Sharon and I have helped bring over $1.2 million in
humanitarian aid to the island. Once other clubs hear
about the work, it’s easy to get support. The Rotary Club
of Kona, Hawaii, has partnered on three projects. We
got assistance from the US Navy Seabees. The Mormon
church has helped us get hygiene kits and school bags.
We’re working with a group in Texas called Pacific Islands
Medical Aid, which has done 100 cataract operations
there in one week, and also brought in diabetes and
heart specialists. We provided all the equipment for a
dental clinic, and the island’s first dentist is visiting from
Madagascar for two years.
We’ve sent more than two dozen wheelchairs and 100
canes, walkers and pairs of crutches. So many of the
people could not get out of their hut unless somebody
carried them, but now they can. We’ve also sent 108
computers to a high school, and now, through the
Internet, the kids have friends around the world.
Since we began the work on Christmas Island, Sharon and
I have gone fly-fishing in north-central Mongolia and in a
First Nations area of British Columbia, Canada. We’ve started
or helped out with humanitarian projects in those places
too. People tell us, “You can’t leave the country anymore,
because you’ll come back with another project.”
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