Catholic school alumni help in the Philippines Print
Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
Fort Atkinson Alumni
Alumni from St. Joseph School in Fort Atkinson and members of the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club deliver school supplies and clothing to a school in the Philippines being rebuilt after a typhoon. (Contributed photo)

FORT ATKINSON -- St. Joseph Catholic School alumni in Fort Atkinson had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines on a mission trip recently.

Working with the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club, these six members of the High School Interact Club were selected to travel to Mararison Island and help with the project.

The school alumni included: Holland Foelker, Ernest Bos, Emmalee Buchta, Riley Koehler, Eli Koehler, and Ben Nelson.

School destroyed by typhoon

The school on Mararison Island was destroyed by a typhoon in 2008. Since that time, the islanders have been working to rebuild the school in a saddle of the mountains.

It is being constructed of cinder blocks in the higher area so that it may also serve as the emergency shelter for the islanders should bad weather approach or should they need to vacate their homes on the lower ground due to storm surges or typhoons.

There is usually electricity on the island from 6 to 10 p.m. each day. Electricity is expensive and not affordable for the islanders. While there is plenty of water around the island, most of it is salt water and not consumable

Originally, the school was designed to catch rainwater for drinking, but the system failed over a year ago. As a result, the children are sent down from the school to a spring to bring up water. The spring is only reliable for water about four to six months of the year.

When the spring isn't available, the children head back toward the village where there is a well. The path is very steep, rocky, and covered in roots.

Rotary Club funds water project

The Rotary Club worked with a pool designer in Boracay who is designing a new rainwater catchment system with a new catch basin to store water.

The solar project will provide enough electricity to pump the water to a small water tower that will also be constructed. The basin will have a sand filter and pump with an in-line UV filtration light to kill micro organisms.

The water tower will feed the comfort room and the hand washing station. The Fort Atkinson Rotary is funding the water project.

Generating electricity

Two Rotary Club members, Dwight Heaney and Jim Nelson, member of St. Joseph Parish in Fort Atkinson, worked in partnership with the Rotary Club of San Jose, Antique, to install solar panels on the roofs of the school buildings to generate enough electricity to power each classroom with two ceiling mounted fans, one desk fan, two seven watt LED lights, and one two-gang wall outlet.

While the students were at the school, they assisted with mounting the light switches, covering the conduit, and screwing in the light bulbs.

The need for electricity and fans was realized by Jim Nelson during his travels to the Island in January of 2017. Nelson was on a Rotary Friendship Exchange where he was visiting Rotarians on both the Islands of Panay and Negros.

At the same time, they were visiting small villages outside of Kalibo to validate the completion of water projects where Rotary District 6250 from Wisconsin collaborated with Rotary District 3850 from the Philippines to bring clean water to the small villages. The trip to Mararison Island was for the purpose of a break to hike and have lunch on the island.

While hiking, the group passed by the school and invited themselves onto their campus. The children were excited about the impromptu visit, and the faculty gave them a tour and allowed them the opportunity to engage with the children.

The Rotary group asked the teachers for one wish they have for their school. The teachers indicated that fans in the classrooms would be a huge benefit as the air is hot and humid.

Upon returning to the main island, the Rotary group asked the Rotarian hosts if they could get a quote to install a solar electric system on the school with power to run the fans, lights, and outlets.

Within a few weeks of returning to Wisconsin, the Rotarians had a quote for about $8,000. The idea was presented to the Rotary Club of Fort Atkinson, which approved spending the money to complete the solar project.

Students get involved

Additionally, the Rotary Club discussed the project with the student Interact Club at the Fort Atkinson High School.

The group voted to take up the Mararison project and decided to collect school supplies to carry with them when they traveled to help with the project.

The group left on March 22 and spent almost a week on the island. Prior to leaving, the students coordinated a school supply and clothing drive and helped raise funds to purchase a laptop and other supplies by holding a pancake breakfast.

All the students who went on the trip are alumni of St. Joseph Catholic School. The school helped collect supplies as a Lenten project.

According to Holland Foelker, Interact Club president, the group had eight donated suitcases full of school supplies and clothes. After the group carried them halfway around the world, the suitcases had to be carried up the mountain over rugged terrain to the school.

Interact Club member, Ben Nelson, was relieved when their boat finally struck shore at Mararison Island. This landing marked 33 hours of travel. Next, there was a bus ride, then finally a boat ride to the island. Students camped in huts on the island.

For Holland Foelker and Emmalee Buchta, their favorite part of the trip was interacting with the children at Mararison Elementary school. They read stories to the younger students while the others played volleyball with the older students.

Holland said, "I could tell by their expressions that the children were super excited to have the new school supplies and electricity for their school."

What they learned

Eli Koehler learned to be more appreciative for everything that he has in the United States. "We have so much and don't even realize it. While I was in the Philippines, I noticed that, while people had so little, they made the best of everything they had."

For the majority of the alumni, this was their first trip out of the country. For Rotarian Dwight Heaney, this was a return trip to the Philippines, since he traveled there 36 years ago.

He said, "This trip reinforced the global impact Rotary has to create lasting change for a more peaceful world as the group continues to build good will and membership."

Jim Nelson was very proud of the students' efforts, how they carried themselves, and how well they represented themselves, their families, their faith, their school, Wisconsin, and the best of America.

As a Filipino, Emmalee Buchta said the trip helped her understand more about the culture and appreciate the Filipino culture in Wisconsin.

Ben Nelson said the mission trip "opened my eyes to many more projects that we could do to help people in foreign countries. I know we made a difference at Mararison Elementary School, thanks to the help from many people."


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