In May 2005, a group of Rotarians from Los Angeles California
journeyed to El Salvador, Central America.
I produced a short video of this trip and have since presented
it to 40 plus Rotary clubs in the Los Angeles area.
As an introduction, I gave the following ten minute speech.
Rotary - Helping Children of the World
in El Salvador
Speech by Brian Hebb
Fellow Rotarians and distinguished guests.
May I first thank you for inviting me to be a part of your meeting here today,
I am truly honored.
And in return, I want to take you far away from here.
I'd like to take you on a journey, outside the boundaries of North America, outside the civilization that we know, outside the comforts of home. As many of you know, the rest of the world does not live as rich as we live here in North America or in Europe, Japan or Australia. So I want to tell you about a different world I recently experienced. And the whole experience was just 96 hours. A long weekend. Right? But it’s an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life. And it changed me, to want to try to inspire people with my own talents as a film maker to help others.
Let me first explain. For many years I traveled the globe as a documentary film maker with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. You know, that big white country to the north. I was sent to the farthest reaches of humanity, to places you'd never heard of, and we'd spend two or three weeks filming a story, and we'd get to know people intimately. We'd live with them, share their food and film their life styles. Then at the end we'd be yanked away, back to civilization. Never to see these people again except on the film we produced about them. We went to the rich places, we went to the poor places and each had their charms. But that was many years ago. In the meantime, my career took me filming television movies, feature films and now corporate films. So the journeys ceased for about fifteen years. Well this Spring (to quote someone famous) I got Deja Vous all over again. And the whole feeling of the experience returned.
It was five hours by jet plane heading South/East out of LA. A red eye special that landed at just after six in the morning. It was hot, muggy in this Central American country, with the aroma of fresh tropical flowers drifting across the sunrise. We were on a mission with our group of Rotary Clubs from around the Los Angeles area, so we could see just what was happening to the dollars we had contributed to a charity. Fourteen different clubs, with many representing other clubs. Twenty two in all, but all representing the whole district. Each with a different project. Each with a subject to grab at your heart strings. And what I saw through my camera lens was awe inspiring.
El Salvador is a country of about six million people and it’s the smallest of the Central American countries. There are two rows of volcanoes that cross the country from east to west, and some of them are still active. On the others, people are active because on the slopes that hot lava rolled down sits the best type of soil to grow coffee.
Coffee, the energy boost of the western world. And it's this coffee that ends up in places like Starbucks. Yes, we pay a fortune for something that was hand picked by a group of coffee harvesters who have barely a cent to their name. No, the poor don’t get the great gobs of money that we lay out for our caffeine fix. No, they don’t even have proper facilities high up on those lava slopes. They usually end up sending their young daughters walking for hours some in bare feet down the mountain sides to the nearest village for fresh daily bread. By-the-way, they send their daughters because they want to make sure their sons are educated.
Well, a local Rotary Club in Downey, California, came along and gave one bakery oven for the use of over 300 coffee harvesters in one plantation. Now they have bread and buns and cakes and doughnuts. And the day we were there they baked us a pizza. There are now plans for eight more bakeries along the coffee slopes, along the mountain sides. And the young daughters will get an education, without the long walk to the village.
Across the country, past a long row of volcanoes to the east, lies the remote town of San Miguel where another Rotary Club is funding a hospital. Inside the operating theatre, a team of doctors from North America are creating miracles.
The problem with all out and out poverty is malnutrition and debilitating diseases, and the people who suffer most are the children: dragging around in the dirt, unable to even hobble to school. Some blind, others with club feet, stricken with polio or other such plights including some hurt from stepping on landmines left over from the savage civil war a few years ago.
But there’s hope as some of these kids are given their first lease on life when Rotary supported doctors straighten out their feet or clean up their sores. And they get up, they can hop, they can walk and run and play, like normal kids. They can even go to school to learn because just down the road another Rotary project is funding an eye clinic started by wealthy and concerned Salvadorian women who saw the need.
Sight is our window on our world and the eye clinics are helping bring these wonders to people everywhere. To poor school children who need glasses. Here, the Rotary Club of LA is a prime funder and THEY are making a difference. We are ALL making a difference helping kids to just be kids.
A film maker, like a journalist, always looks for a good story to tell. And people - Helping Children of the World is a wonderful humanitarian story to bring and to show to everyone.
I’m so proud to be a Rotarian. You may have heard, in 1985, Rotary International committed to immunizing all children everywhere against polio. With 1.2 million members in 168 countries, Rotary has been the largest private-sector contributor to the polio eradication campaign worldwide. Over $600 million dollars has been spent and it is working. By the end of 2008 or sooner (it’s down to a couple of hundred cases now) Polio could be gone. A remarkable accomplishment. And Rotary is being considered for a Nobel Prize.
May I quote Gandi? Who said, "A small body of determined spirits, fired by an unquestionable faith in their mission, can alter the course of history." Sounds like Rotary, doesn't it?
Remarkable? Just five years ago, the Wheelchair foundation was established and as of today they have delivered over 375 thousand wheelchairs around the world. In many places Rotary International has teamed up with the Wheelchair foundation to share the costs and to date Rotary has contributed almost one third of those costs. In chairs - that would be over a hundred thousand. Can you imagine one hundred thousand new people in wheelchairs? How about 375 thousand? Yet that’s only a drop in the bucket because it’s estimated that over 100 million people worldwide need wheelchairs. So there’s much more to do.
There’s a great quote from the Buddha,
but this quote could have come from any great leader,
“In compassion lies the world’s true strength.”
The feelings. Oh … the personal feelings when filming someone in need being helped into a wheelchair for the first time in their life. A child smiling ... knowing. They may speak a different language, but they communicate as they grab their helpers with appreciation in their eyes. The joy, the exhilaration, the experience first hand.
Somehow being a documentary film maker and showing these acts of kindness makes life truly worth living.
So that’s some of what I saw in El Salvador. On a long weekend in May.
But I want to explain, it’s not just about Rotary. It is about all of us as human beings and as individuals and how we all can make a difference in the world. Yes, we do better together, but it starts with you, individualy, and how you encourage others to a cause. I run a multimedia company whose corporate philosophy is to make a difference through the creative arts. But our personal aim is to bring stories to the world that communicate and support human dignity and our environment. For us all, it’s about Service above Self ... to inspire in our own way all people to do something for our world.
The great inspirational speaker and author: Leo Buscaglia once said,
"The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give.”
May I conclude by stressing ... in the end it’s not enough to have just lived. We must decide to live for something. We owe it. For the destiny we all share as individuals is to make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone.
And Helping Children of the World is just one very worthy cause.
Copyright©2005 Brian R. R. Hebb
To view a page dedicated to this film click here
then find: Rotary Clubs of Los Angeles District 5280
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