A Great Service Story for World Diabetes Day

by Quentin Wodon

Today is World Diabetes Day. Last week was World Interact Week.  This post is about a great project for children with diabetes in Bolivia that was supported by members of an Interact club in the United States.

Children and Youth Participants in Campo Amigo
Children and Youth Participants in Campo Amigo

Diabetes is a common and lifelong condition. In the US, 9.3% of the population has diabetes. Most patients (about 95%) have type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with genetics or obesity. By contrast, type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disease whose exact cause remains unknown, but is likely related to viruses and genetics and has nothing to do with obesity.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed among children whose pancreas does not produce insulin anymore. Without insulin, blood sugars rise. Lack of treatment can lead to severe illness and death. Type 1 diabetes needs to be managed very carefully, but knowledge on how to take care of it is often weaker in low income communities.

Campo Amigo

In Santa Cruz in Bolivia, about 10% of the population, mostly low-income individuals, is said to be diabetic. As elsewhere type 1 diabetes affects mostly children. The cost of managing type 1 diabetes is high, and most families in poverty in Bolivia cannot afford to send their children to camps where they could learn how to manage their condition. Campo Amigo is unique grassroots educational initiative championed by local health professionals and volunteers under the leadership of Dr. Roxana Barbero to serve diabetic children through an annual four-day educational camp in Bolivia.

Learning to manage diabetes
Learning to manage diabetes

During the camp the children learn about diabetes (how to give themselves insulin doses, measure their blood sugars, eat healthy meals, do physical activities, etc.). The camp provides children not only with valuable training, but also with equipment such as glucose meters and medicine (insulin). The experience of the camp also helps fight the isolation in which some of the children with diabetes live. They can share experiences and feel part of a community that cares.

Music courtesy of participants
Music courtesy of participants

It Takes a Village…

Last year a few members of the Interact club of Washington DC raised $7,000 for Campo Amigo ($2,000 by themselves and $5,000 through an application for a grant from the International Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Washington, DC). To fundraise, two members of the Interact club completed a sprint triathlon, an international distance triathlon, a half marathon, and a long distance bike race. With two other members of the club, they also ran a marathon relay.

The camp was held in Muyurina Campus, Santa Cruz, on December 19-22, 2013. It was organized by Roxana and her team at the Programa de Enfermedades no Transmisibles del Servicio Departamental de Salud de Santa Cruz, and by Dr. Patricia Blanco from the Fundación Vida Plena de Cochabamba. The funding raised by members of the Interact club covered the cost of the camp which served 53 children and youth from many parts of the country, including La Paz, Cochabamba, Beni, and rural areas apart from Santa Cruz.

Campo Amigo is Fun!
Campo Amigo is Fun!

The partner Rotary club in Bolivia was the Rotary Club Amboró in Santa Cruz. Other partner organizations – especially in terms of volunteers to run the camp, included the Red Boliviana de Diabetes Juvenil, members of the Sociedad de Endocrinología, the Fundación Niño Feliz, and LifeScan for test strips and glucometers. In kind contributions were received from several firms, including Cascada del Oriente, TIGO, BELLCORP and Arcor, as well as Johnson and Johnson.

All staff running the camp worked as volunteers. A total of 19 doctors, three nurses and one psychologist volunteered. For that reason the cost of running the camp was very low. Housing and meals were provided at low cost thanks to a local NGO. The overall cost of attending the four-day camp was only slightly above $100 per child, including bus transportation from the child’s home (throughout Bolivia) to the camp, meals, lodging, and all diabetes equipment and medicine.

Campo Amigo is a great example of low cost and potentially high impact projects through which Interact, Rotaract, and Rotary clubs can make a difference on the ground by partnering with local teams with great experience and dedication.


From Poverty to Winning a National Gymnastics Competition

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

Maria Nelly Pavisich from the Rotary Club of Washington, DC, has been a Rotarian for more than two decades and she has led successful international projects since living in Washington, DC. But when asked what she remembers most fondly from her Rotary years, she told us the story of a group of young girls from her native Bolivia who went on a journey from poverty to winning the country’s national rhythmic gymnastics competition. As she puts it, she and other Rotarians were of a “little help” in this amazing journey.

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One day one of Maria Nelly’s Rotarian friend told her that she had to see a new gymnastics project-school run by a Spanish volunteer and gymnast working for the non-profit Hombres Nuevos in one of the poorest part of her city. The “school” provided free lessons to girls in dire poverty, but it consisted only of a simple patio with a hard floor surface surrounded by a grass garden used for training. How could the girls perform crazy stunts with no mattress! What would happen if a girl fell and broke her bones? Maria Nelly persuaded her club members to support a fundraising effort to provide the school with proper gymnastics equipment. Her club could afford only US$300, but by contacting Rotary clubs in the United States and with matching funds from the Rotary International Foundation, they raised US$10,000. The school grew, and a few years later, the girls ended up winning Bolivia’s rhythmic gymnastics competition three years in a row.

When we asked Maria Nelly what she felt most rewarding in this project, she told us that watching these young girls bloom into self-confident young women was amazing. She recalls how the first time these girls won the nationals, they were so surprised and shy that they kept their face down. Their teacher Cristina had to tip all of their chins for them to look up. But the second time the girls won, they watched the crowd and smiled radiantly with new confidence.

If you visit Maria Nelly at her home, you will see many different pieces of art from a Senegal butterfly wing collage to a window painting done by her daughter Daniella depicting Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity together in harmony. Maria Nelly’s conviction is that everybody should be valued, and that every Rotarian has something to offer. We just need to help people open up and give, whether this is money for gymnastics equipment, or a truckload of soybeans as was provided by a farmer Rotarian to help provide nutritious meals for the young gymnasts, their siblings, and their families.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).