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Getting Ready

October 2018 CONVOY

PREPARATION FOR DEPARTURE

All 6 vehicles have been checked over. All 6 have been cleaned, washed and shined. All decals have been applied. All are waiting to be loaded with cargo before the October 4th departure following the big celebration send off breakfast.

This is the culmination of countless hours of negotiation, form filling, verification, translation, labelling, cross checking and finally loading. Over 800 pages of forms has been sent to Mexico City seeking duty free importation of the vehicles and cargo.

All 6 vehicles were presented to our local media at a luncheon event hosted by Lethbridge’s Fire department at their 5th Avenue North station on Wednesday, September 26. Most of the volunteer drivers were also present wondering quite what they had let themselves into. From past experience they will see lots of delightful scenery, meet fascinating people from all parts of both American and Mexican society plus see miles and miles of tarmac.

Note the cargo loaded inside.

 

Another Club has joined the convoy!

 

And look! Yet another Club has joined the convoy. We are growing.

 

MEDIA LUNCH

The local media were invited to inspect, film and photograph all the 6 vehicles in this year’s convoy at a luncheon held in the 5th Street North fire hall. The volunteer drivers explained to the media the origins of the project and it’s effect on many Mexican communities. Often these donated vehicles are the first emergency vehicles their town or village has owned.

 

Pincher Creek continues to support the convoy – as it has since Los Amigos began.

 

 

Departure Day
DEPARTURE DAY
Thursday, October 4, was Departure Day for the 2018 convoy heading south to Mazatlan, Mexico. A 7.00 am celebration breakfast was held in the Nord-Bridge Center with some 60 people present. This was the opportunity to thank donors to Los Amigos who had supplied vehicle maintenance, decals, coolers, tools, etc.
 
Mayor Bob Tarleck (Mayor of Lethbridge from 2001 to 2010) was thanked for his faith in Rotary. It was his faith in Rotary that basically began the Los Amigos project in 2010. Don McInnis and Richard Tamkin asked him and the Lethbridge City Council for one retired school bus to take wheelchairs and walkers down to Mazatlan and, to Rotary’s surprise and delight, he and the City Council gave Rotary three retired school buses. This enlarged gift presented an unexpected (but pleasant) problem which Berga Moen, Judy Reed, Don McInnis, Jim Campbell and Wayne Stewart were left to solve while Richard Tamkin and his wife, Di, drove south to spend 6 months snow birding in Mazatlan. Thanks to the invaluable assistance freely given by Rotarians from the Grand Prairie area the three buses were safely delivered to Mazatlan. It soon became apparent that we Lethbridgeians had a lot to learn about border formalities.
 
Berga Moen is seen here thanking Karley Lewis, the band teacher at Gilbert Pattison Middle School. Karley had found many, many musical instruments which were then donated to and driven down for Mazatlan schools to enjoy. Travis Conrad, of Wilson Middle School was likewise thanked for repairing these instruments and for bringing them back to good working order so that Mazatlan’s students could enjoy them. The Mexican health inspectors at the border were particularly pleased that Travis had carefully replaced all the mouth pieces with brand new ones. Travis had wisely anticipated this potential problem.
 
Karl Samuels, the Los Amigos project Coordinator, (a.k.a. The Boss or “El Jefe”) is seen here thanking Val Bhoeme of the Rotary Club of Raymond for a $2,500 cheque which will be added to the Los Amigos project’s funds.
 
Connors’s Fleet Services were especially thanked for all their valuable mechanical checks on each of the vehicles in the convoy.
 
After the breakfast the drivers loaded up, said their farewells and drove off almost on time.
 
 
Convoy Drives South
The Los Amigos project consists of two very separate but complimentary parts. Rotarians in Southern Alberta gather together the vehicles and equipment to be donated and then deliver everything to Mazatlan, Mexico. Rotarians in Mazatlan are responsible for deciding which towns the vehicles and equipment will be donated to. These Mazatlan Rotarians are also responsible for ensuring that the donated items continue to be properly and continuously used.
 Albertan Rotarians very deliberately stay away from the donation decisions since they do not speak the Spanish language nor do we know the local customs or conditions.
 
THE CONVOY
After the October 4th departure breakfast the 6 vehicle convoy drove out of Lethbridge on Highway 4 to Coutts and Sweetgrass. This time the US border formalities were easily dealt with and the convoy rolled over the three Montana passes into Idaho without any problems. Overnighted in Idaho Falls and next day drove on through the scramble of Salt Lake City to Fillmore in Utah. There the regular evening meeting of the drivers was held in the open air which attracted other curious travellers who seemed impressed by Rotary’s efforts. Next day the convoy drove through Las Vegas, used the new by-pass that leads straight onto the big bridge over the Colorado Canyon and into Kingman, AZ. They were guests of Kingman’s Route 66 Rotary Club at their big Oktoberfest fund raiser. The drivers donated $150 to the Oktoberfest fund. After the regular morning vehicle checks the convoy headed on south through Phoenix and Tucson to Nogales, AZ, where they met up with Pepesán (the lead Mexican Rotarian) and Omar (a Mazatlan Rotarian). These two vital Mexican Rotarians traveled from Mazatlan just to ensure the convoy cleared the Mexican border checks and formalities with the minimum of trouble. Their magic touch clearly worked since the convoy was cleared in 3 hours, which is a record.
Overnighting in Nogales, Mexico gave time for the drivers to relax in a comfortable hotel just outside of the border control area.
The following day it was a short drive to the visa station at Km 21 were it took the drivers the usual one hour to obtain tourist visas. Then it was roll on south along fast Mexican toll road Route 15D to Navojoa and an overnight stay in a comfortable hotel with a warm pool!  Great relaxation. Next day in the late afternoon the convoy drove into Mazatlan where the vehicles were parked.
That completed the first week and the obligations of the Albertan part of the Los Amigos project which is very international as you can tell.ce our winter.
The Ambassador's Week
Spouses and friends of the drivers flew down and stayed for the second week, entirely at their own expense, so as to partake in the celebrations that the Mexican Rotarians organize to thank Alberta for the gifts that have been driven down. Some Albertans may find this generosity excessive and unnecessary (the writer included) but it is the customs of Mexico that must be respected. The Mexicans are polite and caring people who wish to show their gratitude. It would be seen as arrogant and offensive if Albertans did not partake. (The writer and his wife have spent many years snow birding in Mazatlan and thus both like and respect the ordinary Mexican).
The drivers and ambassadors were divided into four groups so that celebrations in each town could be attended.
 
Karl Samuel’s group.
Vehicle Handover Ceremony – Acayucan, Veracruz
A small group flew via Mexico City to Acayucan near the big port city of Veracruz on the southern Caribbean coast where the fire truck from the MD of Rocky View was being donated. The fire truck had been purchased by the Rotary Club of Airdrie for $5,000 thanks to the efforts of Randy Smith who was the retiring Fire Chief of the MD. Randy, his wife, Donna, Karl Samuels and Jim Campbell formed this group, all of whom were hosted by the Rotary Club of Acayucan.
 
John Fortunka’s group Vehicle Handover Ceremony – Tepic, Nayarit
This was going to be a busy and memorable day for our group of six drivers and ambassadors who were visiting Tepic to handover the ambulance to the municipality of Tepic.
 
First stop an invitation to the Municipality Building to meet El President in his office. Greetings and pleasantries exchanged the group was escorted outside to the Plaza where the handover  was going to take place. The canopy was quickly filled and the top table guests and speakers took their places facing the crowd.
 
The highlight of the ceremony was the signing of the contract between the Rotary Club of Tepic Nayar and the President of the Municipality. This binding agreement ensures that the Municipality accepts the responsibility of keeping the vehicle well maintained and used to it fullest extent for the benefit of the people of Tepic.
 
The handing over of the keys of the Ambulance was the next step in the proceedings. Lynne Brasnett was chosen from the group to do this. It was special for Lynn to do this because the vehicle had been donated by the community of Pincher Creek and sponsored by Lynn’s Rotary Club. Lynn is also a paramedic in Pincher Creek and had driven the vehicle during its service in that community.
 
Speeches were made, banners presented and gifts were exchanged. Finally, the photo shoot to mark the end of the official occasion. As an added attraction the group was treated to a tour of the Tepic Fire Hall. Here the group enjoyed the antics of the Exchange Students who gleefully enjoyed trying the firemen’s emergency exit pole.
 
A special thanks to our great Rotary hosts in Tepic!
 
Jack Yaeck’s group – Vehicle Handover Ceremony – Mazanillo, Colima
 
To deliver the handi-bus to Mazanillo involved a wearing four-day trip beginning with, on the first day, an eleven hour drive to Colima which is the capital city of Colima state. The Rotary Club of Colima treated the group to supper as their guests. Then it was back on the bus for a one-hour drive to Mazanillo where the handi-bus from Brooks was formally handed over to the Helen Keller School for the Disabled.
 
 
Then a one hour return journey to Colima and the hotel.
The morning of the second day was profitably spent meeting with the Under-Secretary of the Minister of Social Development for the State of Colima, learning about the lack of education and the problems caused by poverty combined with the State’s efforts to alleviate these.
In the afternoon the group visited three fire stations in the City of Mazanillo which just happens to be Mexico’s busiest port on its Pacific coast with a population of around 190,000 people. These fire stations are ill equipped so the group were able to ascertain their requirements and to hear their wishes for the future.
 
Despite Mazanillo being such a busy port, it lacks a Rotary Club so the handibus will be supervised by the Rotary Club of Colima on behalf of the Los Amigos project.
Again, supper as guests of the Rotary Club of Colima.
After breakfast on the third day the group visited a second school for the disabled in Coquimatlán which received a handibus last year and is still working just fine. Then there was a tour of a local village by the Department of Tourism followed by a visit to a nearby museum featuring a highly revered local artist.
That evening the group attended the regular weekly meeting of their hosting club, the Rotary Club of Colima and exchanged banners.
The fourth day was spent travelling back to Mazatlan.
 
Berga Moen’s group  –  Vehicle Handover Ceremony – Culiacán, Sinaloa
Sunday 14 October 2018 – The group travelled by van to Culiacán, where the local Rotarians held a welcoming barbeque at the hotel.
 
Monday 15 October 2018 – Presentation of an ambulance to DIF (Welfare Dept.) Sinaloa. The ambulance will be part of a DIF project to provide services to indigenous farm works. These are the very poorest who come to the Culiacan area to find work in the fields, at the dump, etc. The project is the brain child of Rosy, the wife of the Sinaloa State Governor, who attended the presentation. Also, in attendance was the CAO for DIF (Welfare Dept.) in Sinaloa.
Pepesán (the lead Mexican Rotarian) gave a speech to the crowd explaining the Los Amigos project and how such projects in Mexico are vetted by Mexican Rotarians there to make sure that the vehicles brought to Mexico will be used. Rosy, the Governor’s wife, was most impressed with the Los Amigos Project and made a point of speaking to Berga and others on the team to thank them for the work they are doing.
The presentation was followed by a tour of a rehabilitation facility operated by DIF. Services are provided to all citizens, adults to children. Payment for services is based upon income and is free to those who cannot pay. Services include physical therapies and life skills coaching as well as psychological support. Some halls were lined with art work done by clients of the facility.
 
Tuesday 16 October 2018 – Presentation of school bus at City Hall. The City Treasurer attended for the Mayor who was unable to attend. The head of the Institute receiving the bus was also present. The bus will be used by the Institute to transport students from the University out to do community service work with the very poor and to bring the poor into the City for various treatment facilities and/or education.
Following this presentation, we toured the MIA, an interactive “museum” designed to teach the public, particularly school children, about addictions, how drugs and alcohol affect the body and the impact this has on the lives of those around the addict and society in general. It was very dynamic.
It was an exploration of how and why to say “No” to drugs, including alcohol. Also, a section devoted to teaching how to develop good habits such as exercise and healthy eating.
 
Wednesday 17 October 2018 – Presentation of ambulance to Culiacan Civic Hospital. In attendance was the Director of Medicine for the hospital and other dignitaries. The hospital has 130 resident doctors, including several specialists. They provide medical care to the poor. Patients pay only what they can afford, may be a little, may be a lot, or may be nothing at all. This ambulance will be used to provide outreach services to the very poor migrant farmers living on the outskirts of Culiacan. The medical care will go out to them and transport patients back into the hospital when needed. The Medical Director in his speech to us emphasized that this ambulance will make a huge difference in bringing care to the very poor and will save lives.
Following the presentation, we were able to see the ambulance donated to this hospital three years ago. It originally came from Cardston and had just received a new paint job. Rotary emblems had been replaced on the ambulance as well.
Thursday 18 October 2018 – The group went by bus to El Rosario where we attended the Cultural School for the presentation of music instruments. They learned that the program run by this school is actually after regular school hours. A few of the children are able go to regular schools beforehand. The majority were children that have come off the streets to take part in the music program. As a result, they are getting not only the opportunity to participate in the music program, but also basic education skills such as reading and math. These are not the children of wealthy parents, so no school uniforms here. Of the instruments donated by Los Amigos, several of the larger instruments donated by Los Amigos will remain with the program in El Rosario, but the rest will be used to start a second music program in another location. The group were impressed by the dedication of the music teachers in bringing this program to the students of every age group all participating together. The program also included a choral ensemble. The program director emphasized that this music program was keeping these kids off the street and off drugs.
Adios Amigos
Upon return there was one free day for both the drivers and ambassadors to relax.
The following evening there was held in Mazatlan a big banquet of thanks. Again, more wonderful Mexican hospitality.
Next day, sadly, all Albertans had to fly back ready to face our winter.
Russell Hampton
National Awards Services Inc.
ClubRunner