Courtesy photo Five Wallowa County Rotarians were part of a contingent that recently traveled to El Salvador to support the Project Salvador scholarship program. In front, from left, are Susan DeMarsh of the Pendleton Rotary Club and assistant district Rotary governor for Eastern Oregon, and Judy Allen of the Wallowa County Rotary Club. In the back, from left, are Bill Finney and Ralph Swinehart of the Wallowa Rotary Club, John Kukankos, Project Salvador representative and trip leader, and Rick Bombaci of the Wallowa County Rotary Club. Judy Wandschneider is not pictured.
Rotarians support scholarships in El Salvador
Old habits die hard. Lending a hand to people in developing nations is a habit that some folks just can’t quit. In early November, five people from Wallowa County took a fast and furious trip to El Salvador to see what they could do to help people live a better life.
Rick Bombaci said in the 1960s, Judy Wandschneider of Joseph met John Kukankos while a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkey. Kukankos is a Project Salvador board member, a group based in Denver. Last year the long-time friends traveled to Central America together.
“Kukankos has specific interests in El Salvador which include providing scholarships to deserving students linked with Project Salvador so they can go to high school and college,” Bombaci said.
Wandschneider, a natural born ambassador for peace and justice, encouraged friends who are Rotary members to join her on a visit to villages outside of the nation’s capitol city of San Salvador. Bombaci said Wallowa County Rotary Club President Louis Perry wanted to do an international project so the club chose to support Project Salvador’s scholarship program.
The Wallowa County contingency was joined by Kukankos, who lives in Chicago, and Susan DeMarsh, assistant district Rotary governor for Eastern Oregon.
Public schools are available through the eighth grade in El Salvador. Students who show promise and have financial need are selected by their teachers to apply for scholarships that pay for uniforms, fees, books and even shoes.
“We traveled with the scholarship students and got a sense of who they are. They each gave an introduction of themselves and what they hoped to do,” Judy Allen said.
She said they met with both the newly selected students and ones who have been in the program. “The girls who are going to school on scholarships have a level of pride and confidence,” Allen said.
“One point John made more than once was when you educate a young woman down there you are making a change to her life and her family. A lot of these girls that get educations are not going to get pregnant at 15. The hope is when they do have children they will encourage them to have an education. The leveraging effect will put education and professionalism back into the community,” Bombaci said.
The group went down with $4,000 in hand, Bombaci said, $2,000 from the club and $2,000 from the Rotary Foundation that will provide scholarships to approximately 10 to 20 students.
Project Salvador has two El Salvadoran employees who mentor and meet with the students once a month to look at their grades and keep tabs on how they are doing.
“If they don’t toe the mark, they are out of the program,” Rotary member Ralph Swinehart said.
Allen said one of the five days in the country they met with Mike and Susie Jenkins, former Peace Corps volunteers who started Epilogos, a nonprofit involved with the water projects and micro lending.
The Wallowa County contingency got involved with a micro-loan of their own when they met women who had lost their tortilla stand in a fire. Out of a roadside stand, cobbled together out of sticks and corrugated tin, the women made 1,000 tortillas a day, Allen said.
“A $500 loan was given to the women to put in a concrete floor so they could have tables and chairs to increase their business and create a more inviting situation,” Allen said.
Bombaci and Swinehart got involved with community improvement projects in El Salvador long before the Rotary Club adopted the scholarship program. In 2003, Swinehart went to a village called El Progreso as a consulting engineer on a water project. Money was raised to purchase a utility truck to haul building materials and harvested crops like corn, coffee and beans. It also serves as a school bus, Allen said.
“There are only one or two other vehicles in El Progreso,” Swinehart said.
A $100,000 grant also paid for a water project in a village called San Felipe, Swinehart said.
“The way we got involved was serendipitous,” Swinehart said. “Rick was hiking the Appalachian Trail and met a guy with whom he hiked for 1,000 miles.”
Bombaci said he reunited with his friend at a wedding in 2002 who said he was doing volunteer work in El Salvador and needed help.
“That’s when we got involved,” Swinehart said. “Rick and I designed the system and arranged to buy valves, pumps and motors. Rick shipped them down there with help from Judy Wandschneider’s sister who works for FedEx, which gave us $10,000 in free shipping.”
Bombaci said the club is committed to continuing work in El Salvador and will possibly send members down again next year.