Lake Norman & Mooresville

Lake Norman Charter Interact Club prepares for Guatemala mission

Lake Norman Charter High School Spanish teacher and Interact Club adviser Melissa McNeilly, with her husband, Steven McNeilly, and a Guatemalan family after a stove installation during a trip in October, said each of the 70 families the team is helping will receive a photo of the sponsor or group that funded their improvements.
Lake Norman Charter High School Spanish teacher and Interact Club adviser Melissa McNeilly, with her husband, Steven McNeilly, and a Guatemalan family after a stove installation during a trip in October, said each of the 70 families the team is helping will receive a photo of the sponsor or group that funded their improvements. COURTESY OF MELISSA MCNEILLY

Lake Norman Charter High School is preparing for its first international service team to embark on a mission to Gálvez, Guatemala, in June.

Four adults and 11 students from the school’s Interact Club will travel to the rural area, where traditional Mayan cooking methods used by the indigenous community cause health problems in adults and children due to smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide and open flames inside the home.

These cooking methods shorten life expectancy and create many hours of labor of hauling wood for the women. The people of Gálvez are also affected by the quality and safety of the water sources available to them.

So a team of teenagers and advisers from the high school will install new, safer stoves that are compatible with the community’s cooking methods. The team will also install water purifiers and concrete pads in the homes, whitewash smoke-stained walls and provide deworming medication and vitamins to families.

To provide everything in that list costs $300 per family. And with a club goal of helping 70 families, this means the students need to raise $21,000 for their trip. The club has about $8,000 after months of raising funds and finding sponsors, said Melissa McNeilly, the club’s adviser and a Spanish teacher.

McNeilly suggested the club take on the project after she traveled to install stoves in Guatemala with other groups in 2008 and 2013.

LNCHS administration was very supportive of the idea. The school’s motto – “together we learn, lead and serve” – worked well with the Guatemala project.

“I’ve done a lot of mission work, service trips. … I felt like this project made the biggest immediate difference in the families’ lives,” McNeilly said when sharing about why she wanted students to be a part of the efforts.

McNeilly grew emotional as she described photo exchanges between sponsor families and the Guatemalan families helped on previous trips.

Guatemalan families were presented with a picture of the people who sponsored their home transformations and health assistance. Most sponsors are individuals or families, although there are a few business sponsors.

Once everything was installed and updated in the family’s home, the Guatemalan family was photographed with the new setup.

Upon return to the United States, the sponsor families were given these photos. McNeilly plans to do something similar during the Interact Club’s trip this summer.

The Guatemala stove and water-filter project is LNCHS’ Interact Club’s biggest service project yet. The club has existed for several years, but it has been sponsored as an official Interact Club by the Rotary Club of Lake Norman-Huntersville for the last two.

Rotary International sponsors Interact Clubs to give students ages 12-18 opportunities both to help their own communities and to develop global understanding through various service activities.

The students traveling to Guatemala are excited to see their fundraising turn into tangible results for the people of Gálvez. Most of the students going have not experienced this sort of trip before, said McNeilly.

“I’m most looking forward to a different type of helping out. … Seeing how a new clean stove can help a family and affect their daily life,” said junior Jade Marlin, 16.

The project can help make children safer, create more time and energy for family members, and lead to a reduction in wood consumption by about 65 percent, according to the manufacturers of the stoves installed. The stoves also eliminate the leading cause of death among children younger than 5: excessive smoke inhalation, according to Helps International and the World Health Organization.

During the trip, students will have the opportunity to stay in a local home, eat authentic Guatemalan food, use a foreign language and visit Antigua, Mayan ruins and an artisan market.

The Interact Club has raised money in many different ways for this project, including having bake sales; doing restaurant nights where a percentage of tabs is donated; hosting a parents’ night out and charging for baby-sitting services; selling friendship bracelets in an effort called “Threads of Hope”; selling T-shirts; and seeking sponsors.

Other projects LNCHS Interact Club work on include fighting polio – the goal of Rotary International – as well as a Japanese exchange-student program, and raising money for families in need in the Philippines. The club has about 70 members.

Junior Andrea Gartner, 16, reflected on how the Guatemala project shows how far the Interact Club has come since it started.

“We’ve grown so much over the last three years … to now be able to support whole families in Guatemala is awesome,” she said.

Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marjorie? Email her at marjorie.dana@yahoo.com.

Want to help?

The LNCHS Interact Club is still looking for sponsors. T-shirts are also for sale. The club may also host another parents’ night out later in the spring. For inquiries, sponsorship, T-shirt purchase or donations, contact Melissa McNeilly at mmcneilly@lncharter.org or visit http://www.youcaring.com/LNCGuatemalaProject. For information on some of the projects the club will be doing in Guatemala, visit www.onilstove.com.

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