By Eugene Pellerano
ELLSWORTH — A group of nine very tired Ellsworth Rotarians just returned from a wheelchair distribution trip in the Dominican Republic.
This trip was conceived months ago when a fellow Rotarian, Dr Marshall Smith, returned to Maine and shared his joy at having a school dedicated to him in the batey Como Quiera, where he helped bring free medical care to them for the last 30 years.
A batey is a housing area for the workers in the sugar cane fields. In most bateys the housing consists of small wood, block or concrete buildings, usually with steel corrugated roofs. Many still lack running water and electricity.
The Ellsworth Rotary, joined by the Bangor Breakfast Club, the Old Town Club, and the Plymouth. N.H., Club, raised enough funds to purchase a container of 115 wheelchairs. The wheelchairs were procured through the American wheelchair mission and shipped on the group’s behalf to the Dominican Republic.
The local Dominican La Romano Rotary Club, then working with the El Buen Samaritano Hospital in La Romano, provided storage for the chairs and ground support for the Ellsworth Rotarians. The Ellsworth Rotarians arrived on Tuesday, March 6, and spent the next three days in a van traveling the east side of the Dominican Republic. Over those three days the chairs were distributed to local Rotary Clubs, Lion Groups, disability rehabilitation centers, hospitals, clinics and individual recipients, as identified by the local Rotary groups, spreading the gift of mobility to those in need.
Recipient ages ranged from a 12-year-old young woman to a 95-year-old woman. In addition, Beanie Babies and soccer balls were distributed to youth along the way. Three Rotarians from Saguenay, Quebec, Canada, who were in the Dominican Republic to work on a house building project, rode along on Friday and pitched in with distributing the wheelchairs.
On Saturday, March 10, the Ellsworth Rotarians got to see the school named in honor of Dr. Smith at the batey Como Queria. Using money raised by the Ellsworth Rotary Club, the hospital arranged a party for the children. A clown troupe provided entertainment, the hospital put together lunch for the children and Ellsworth Rotary handed out soccer balls and Beanie Babies to the assembled children of the batey.
In spite of the condition of the batey, the children seemed well nourished and healthy. We found out this was directly related to the La Romano Rotary and El Buen Samaritano Hospital personnel, who work endlessly to ensure the batey gets food and medical care on a regular basis.
The Ellsworth Rotarians raised the funds to pay for the wheelchairs during two annual pancake breakfasts, a Rotary International Grant Program and solicitation of private donations. The Rotarians paid their own way on this trip, including airfare, housing, food and local transporting of themselves and the wheelchairs.
The age of the traveling Rotarians on this trip spanned from 26 to 86 years old and each one can relate different moments in the trip when they felt they were “making a difference.”
All concerned find this is a worthwhile endeavor and many Rotarians feel strongly enough to have participated in some, if not all four, wheelchair trips put together by the Ellsworth Rotary Club over the last four years.
Pellerano is co-chairman of the Ellsworth Rotary Club’s International Service Committee