By Janet Yarbrough
International Services Director, Rotary Club of Cameron Park
I hope everyone enjoys this article and after reading it will take home the following
learning objectives:
  • International service projects embody the Four Way Test.
  • When planning a joint international service project, all participating Rotary clubs need to closely communicate during the planning stage and during the actual performance of the project.
  • Each participating club needs to assign one individual to lead the project.  These individuals should communicate regularly.
The Rotary Club of Pleasanton, CA partnered with the Rotary Club of Belen, Costa Rica to distribute wheelchairs to approximately 200 needy individuals in Costa Rica.  Fifteen Pleasanton Rotarians and guests left for Costa Rica on February 23, 2020 and returned home on February 29, 2020, just a few days before the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was realized. 
The Pleasanton Rotary Club purchased approximately 200 wheelchairs from the Behring Wheelchair Foundation.  The funds to purchase the chairs came from the club’s Foundation.  
The Pleasanton Rotary Club and the Belen Rotary Club worked together to distribute the wheelchairs in Central and Northern Costa Rica.  Qualified recipients were chosen by the Costa Rican government social services department.  Recipients ranged in age from grade school to 109 years old.  Yes, 109 years old.  He is the oldest person in Central America.
I was happy to be involved in this great undertaking.  All in all, the trip was a great success.  I reconnected with Rotarians I hadn’t seen in a few years and met a great bunch of Costa Rican Rotarians.  Two hundred individuals have new wheelchairs, some for the first time in their life.  They can now be mobile, be productive and new opportunities open up for them.

Lessons Learned:

Wheelchair distributions take a lot of organization from all participating Rotary Clubs, the Behring Wheelchair Foundation and other government and private social service organizations.  During the wheelchair distribution trip, I noticed that the communication between the two participating Rotary Clubs was inadequate for the tasks at hand.  The Rotary Clubs’ responsibility at the wheelchair distribution sites is to make sure we have brought enough wheelchairs and wheelchair sizes for the scheduled recipients.  Then prior to awarding the wheelchairs to their owners, the chairs need to be removed from their box and assembled.  I noticed that we were not given the information as to the number and size of wheelchairs to assemble. So, many times we put together too many wheelchairs and then had to disassemble and re-box them.  Or sometimes we had put together the wrong size and had to search the inventory for the correct size.    If this information had been better communicated, the wheelchair distribution ceremony and experience would have been more organized and efficient.  The moral of this is that when planning an international service project communicate with the participating Rotary Clubs, assign one individual from each club to lead the project together and plan the logistics of the project in advance.  Don’t wait until you get to your project destination to figure what you are going to do.  But all in all, it was a successful and satisfying trip.
Also, when participating in an international service project it’s very important to be respectful of the beneficiaries of our services.  I always asked the wheelchair recipient and their family if I could take their photo.  Some people are private and don’t want their photo taken.  Please respect their dignity. Most people are more than happy for a photo opportunity.
Another thing that I recommend when participating in an international service project is to bring gifts for the beneficiaries.  We brought T-shirts leftover from prior fundraisers to give to the wheelchair recipients and their families.  We also brought crayons and craft items to give to the children.  Everyone was always appreciative of these items.
International service projects are very satisfying and rewarding.  Just make sure that the communication and organization between the participating clubs is solid and plan the logistics of the project well in advance.  Doing this will make the whole experience more successful and rewarding.