The “Pallet” School
The University of Lethbridge Rotaract Club (ULRC) had raised funds for a school in South Sudan, but the civil war there prevented its construction. Members of the Rotary Club of Lethbridge East (RCLE) proposed to the Rotaractors that they fund a permanent structure for a poor school in Mazatlan, that was built out of shipping pallets. The ULRC agreed to this change, provided there was local Rotarian supervision in Mazatlan.
Construction of a hurricane-proof school was overseen and completed by a Mazatlan Rotarian who is also a major contractor in town. The school is a busy lively beautiful kindergarten. This school will also serve as a community emergency shelter.
In Mexico, children must attend kindergarten before they may enter grade school. To enter kindergarten children are required to wear a uniform and have a backpack filled the required school supplies. Many local parents cannot afford the uniform or the supplies, but local ‘snowbirds’ fundraise to ensure these children enter kindergarten. In Mazatlan there is a large group to permanent foreign residents plus snowbirds who organize scholarships and supplies to ensure children complete their grade school education.
The school’s new building formally opened in October 2017 and was timed to coincide with the convoy’s arrival. The two Presidents of the ULRC who were both heavily involved in project were also flown down (expenses covered by RCLE) to attend the formal opening.
L=>R: Katelyn de Boer and Katie Wilson
Katelyn and Katie attended the formal opening and in the evening, were entertained to formal dinner in a private house to thank them for the Rotaractor’s generosity. Mexican hospitality requires that visitors who bring valued gifts are specifically thanked, so the two Presidents also attended the formal dinner which marked the end of the 2017 convoy’s time in Mexico.
(Editor’s note: Mexican hospitality can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming to a foreigner, but good manners require that everyone joins in.)
The Driving to Mazatlan Adventure
Before the convoy departs all cargo must be sorted and loaded.
The 2017 convoy departed from the Streatside Restaurant on Thursday, October 12, after the celebration breakfast. They headed for the US border, where there were bonding issues. After some discussion, five vehicles were cleared. Two hours later, the sixth vehicle was cleared. By 1:30pm, the seventh vehicle was re-bonded which allowed it to proceed.
Outside Brady Montana, the Coaldale handibus blew its radiator. One ambulance stayed while the others proceeded to Great Falls. Henry van Hierden took out the defective radiator, took it in to Brady and ordered a replacement from Great Falls. That replacement did not fit so the supplier produced an alternative and drove out halfway to make an exchange. Henry installed the second radiator. Thank you, Henry!
Then the same handibus blew a head gasket, but was able to limp into a garage in Great Falls. The cost of repair would be ~$10,000, so to honour our bonding obligation, it was towed back to Lethbridge for disposal.
Five vehicles arrived at Idaho Fall’s hotel at ~5:30 pm; the ambulance that stayed behind arrived at ~11.30 pm. On Friday all six vehicles drove to Fillmore Utah without incident, and on Saturday drove to Kingman Arizona. During the required evening vehicle check, it was noticed that one tire on a vehicle was blown, but that was quickly replaced, without hassle, by a very cooperative local tire shop.
That evening, the Kingman Route 66 Rotary Club hosted the entire convoy at their customary excellent BBQ at a member’s residence. This provided an opportunity for the donations Kingman had obtained to be loaded into the vehicles. On Sunday Jo Ann Oysen from the Kingman Club joined the convoy. Eleven kilometres out of Kingman Arizona, another handibus blew its transmission. Jo Ann arranged for a Rotary member (past president of Kingman club) to assist us with the towing. This vehicle eventually made it to Mazatlan, thanks to Larry Schow who returned to Tucson and drove it down.
Chris McLean (RCLE) supervises loading the Handibus for removal.
Larry Schow and Michael Henderson stayed behind with the handibus, which apparently could not be repaired in Kingman. A friendly tow truck fellow towed the handibus all the way to Tucson for free, where it was left behind to be repaired. He then drove Larry and Michael to the US/MX border, again for free. That involved two days of tow truck driving for free – very generous and many thanks.
The remaining five vehicles drove to Tucson without incident.
On Monday ‘Catcho’ and ‘Meno’ from Mazatlan’s Rotary Clubs joined the convoy to assist at the border.
The remaining vehicles headed to the US/MX border with a stop at Green Valley AZ, to buy lunch, since there are no suitable facilities at the border. All the vehicles were X-rayed then backed up to the loading dock and unloaded. All the cargo was checked and processed by Mexican officials, who were polite, but which also required a lot of walking between various offices. Eventually all five vehicles were all cleared at 8:30 pm and the drivers collapsed into the Fiesta Hotel in Nogales Mexico.
On Tuesday the five vehicles headed south to kilometre-21 where visas were purchased, and then on to Navojoa’s Best Western Hotel and its welcoming pool.
On Wednesday the convoy completed the drive by arriving at the Mazatlan park at around 6 pm. The ambassador’s who had flown down joined the drivers at the park.
On Thursday, October 19th, one week after departing Lethbridge, the vehicles were formally handed over to the recipient towns at a formal brunch type ceremony.
Russell Hampton
National Awards Services Inc.