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Through his involvement in Marcala Clean Water Project, Rotary International Matching Grant #0762546, Leonardtown Rotarian Steve King learned that rural Honduran school children and their parents “thirst” for an understanding of modern science almost as much as they thirst for access to clean drinking water. In their text books and classrooms the students learn that some of the natural world is far too small to be seen with the naked eye and that some of the microscopic organisms are responsible for the spread of the water borne diseases that ravage their communities. Through the community health and hygiene training that is supplied as part of the Rotary International Clean Water Projects the students and their parents learn how parasites, viruses and bacteria adversely effect their health, how they can protect their drinking water and food from contamination and the public health benefits of following sanitary waste disposal practices. In particular they learn about the critical importance of properly chlorinating their new drinking water supplies to kill any pathogens that may survive the Rotary funded water treatment process.
Unfortunately, while working in rural Honduras Rotarian King learned from his Honduran colleagues that being told about and reading about such organisms, without the opportunity to actually see them, often results in people not truly believing that such pathogens exist. For this reason, it is less likely that good hygiene will be practiced and that the financially disadvantaged citizens of these communities will support the expense of buying chlorine. Rotarian King learned that in some of the communities served by new Rotary funded water systems the residents eventually stopped chlorinating their drinking water after the clarity of the water and the residents’ health greatly improved. Such a mistake can often lead to tragic consequences.
To resolve this problem and to give the disadvantaged students of Honduras an opportunity to explore the wonders of the microscopic world, at the request of the Rotary Club of Leonardtown, the St. Mary’s County Public Schools donated 56 technically obsolete and broken microscopes that were no longer being used. Leonardtown Rotarian King and his wife Karen cleaned, restored and packaged 50 microscopes for shipment to Honduras. Members of the Marcala Coffee Cooperative then raised funds to cover cost of shipping and members of the Rotary Club of Marcala, Honduras, distributed the microscopes to 25 disadvantaged public schools surrounding Marcala, in the La Paz District, in January of 2010. Educators who are members of the Marcala Rotary then trained the teachers at those schools on how to use the microscopes. Microbiology can now be incorporated into the local curriculum. In addition, as part of the Marcala Clean Water Project use of some of the microscopes was incorporated in the community health and hygiene training. Members of the Rotary training team reported that the microscopes greatly improved the effectiveness of the health and hygiene training, as children, parents and grandparents stood in long lines waiting to see the microscopic world for the first time in their lives.
Word of the “Thirsty Minds Initiative” is spreading throughout Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and requests are coming in for more microscopes to be donated to impoverished schools throughout the region. The Leonardtown Rotary Club encourages all of the clubs in District 7620 to consider joining in on the project. Thousands of technically obsolete microscopes that are no longer being used throughout Maryland school systems could be put to good use in Central America, Africa, etc.