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Lobsterfest Funds Go Far: Rotarians Visit Africa Projects

You know all those great, fun events that Westport Rotary Club sponsors, like  Lobsterfest?

You know how Rotarians say they’re fundraisers for worthwhile projects?

Well, they are.

Eight Westport Rotarians joined 17 others — including Rotarians from around the US — on an East African trip last month.

The purpose was to visit remote sites of development and humanitarian Rotary grant projects, and meet Rotarians in Kenya and Uganda. Ratrians also pitched in with hands-on work.

Rick and Totney Benson, with Rotary officials in Kampala, Uganda.

Projects included 3 rural schools – two for water and sanitation projects, one for a new community resource center — plus a Masai village medical clinic, and a hospital and nursing school on the Uganda/ Congo border with 4 new ICU units.

They also stopped at national parks to enjoy wildlife in savanna and riverine environments, trekked with habituated gorillas, and enjoyed fellowship with 5 Rotary clubs.

The Africa trip was planned by Rick Benson, a 33-year Westport Rotarian. He has led or participated in many international humanitarian expeditions to Africa, India and Central America, and enjoys connections with Rotarians and clubs worldwide.

The trip combined passion for humanitarian service, intricate logistics and enormous energy. Some Rotarians called it life-changing.

During 3 weeks, the group covered more than 2,500 miles of the Rift Valley by small plane, and off-road heavy duty safari vehicles. Traveling from capital cities to remote areas of barren highlands, lush fertile valleys along the Nile and lakes like Victoria, and in sight of Mount Kenya, they stayed in mountaintop lodges, safari hotels and local guest houses.

An evening walk near Lake Naivasha, Kenya.

They assessed progress made, and future needs. For example, the pump associated with a deep bore hole well and storage tank that had been installed to serve over 2,500 people in 5 rural villages and schools recently broke. A new pump was needed. A quick response got water flowing again.

Another example was the Nambale Magnet School. It was founded by a Kenyan pastor who graduated from Yale Divinity School, to serve children orphaned during the AIDS epidemic.

Modeled on a magnet school in New Haven, it has developed since 2009 into an outstanding campus offering a home, safety and high-quality education for 400 students ages 3 to 13.

Schoolchildren in Kenya. (Photo/Gillian Anderson)

Rotary sponsorship has provided a deep water well, pump, water storage and distribution facilities, a gray water recycling system, a bio digestor to process animal and human waste into fertilizer, and a greenhouse and irrigation system. Still needed: whiteboards, computers, and an expanded network for classrooms.

In the remote forested area of southwest Uganda that is home to endangered mountain gorillas, the Bwindi Community Hospital was established in 2003 by American Rotarian doctor and missionary and his wife. They saw a need to help indigenous people who were displaced when the Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Reserve was established.

Westport Rotarians have led a project through which dozens of benefactors purchase and ship nearly $1 million worth of ICU and radiology equipment. Two shipping containers will be delivered and installed in coming months.

Rotarians wore COVID masks — to protect gorillas. 

Westport Rotary last year distributed more than $185,000 to 36 local and regional programs. 25% was invested in international humanitarian projects, like those recently visited.

They’re always looking to raise more funds, for more help. Westport Rotary is gearing up now to beat last year’s fundraising record at LobsterFest. It’s September 17, at Compo Beach. Click here for tickets, and details on the lobster, steak, live music and children’s activities.

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One more natural wonder in Africa. (Photo/Lyla Steenbergen)

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