Bankers are supposed to be flinty eyed. Evidently, Paul J. Watts didn’t get the memo.
The Island Rotarian looked a tad teary eyed last Friday as he described some of the 280 Peruvian villagers who were given the gift of mobility, some for the first times in their lives, as the result of the Martha’s Vineyard Rotary Club’s wheelchair mercy mission.
Mr. Watts, senior vice president of Bank of Martha’s Vineyard, was back in Vineyard Haven with seven other Island residents who spent a restful two weeks vacationing in Peru.
Well, restful if your idea of a vacation is rising each day at 4 a.m., rattling your bones through a 10-hour bus ride up mountainside and across deserts to deliver joy and hope and independence to our hemisphere’s poorest citizens. Then doing it again for nine more days, generally ending your day at midnight or later.
The trip was the first made by Jim Klingensmith, a partner in CKB Construction in Edgartown. “No, there wasn’t much time wasted sleeping,” Mr. Klingensmith recalled, noting that the alarm always went off at 4 a.m. for Mr. Watts and for him and Frank and Ann Pellegrino of the Seafood Shanty, Pam and John Rancourt of Island Propane and Dick Fenn, an Episcopal minister.
This is the second consecutive year Mr. Watts has made the wheelchair trip and his eleventh overall to a country so poor that medical facilities are a rumor and medical assistance is not part of popular consciousness. As he speaks of the Island’s Rotary efforts, listeners see the horizon of help expand from giving aid to a few, then seeing the few giving much to their community of many.
Here is how it happened:
“Katie Johnson and I were talking twelve years ago. Katie’s an Islander who had been providing wool and patterns to Peruvians to knit sweaters that she sold,” Mr. Watts said.
“She showed me photos of kids with no shoes and told me about one child who had stepped on rusty metal and died of tetanus. Fifty dollars would outfit an entire village with flip flops. I gave her fifty. Those pictures began it. Rotary is the only service organization in Peru. No Red Cross, no nothing. Adam Wilson [former owner of Adam Cab] and I went down for two weeks 11 years ago, met with Rotarians Rosario and Henry Malaba in Lima who provided us with a list of 45 projects. We discussed them with the interpretative help of an exchange student from Brattleboro, Vt., who just happened to be there. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?
“One of the things they mentioned was a soup kitchen that required $200 for four months of providing tortillas and goat soup to a village 13,000 feet in the Andes. We did that on the spot. Then we heard about Cuidad de Los Ninos — The City of Children.”
Mr. Watts paused for a moment. He continued:
“It’s an orphanage that at the time had 120 boys who were fed and sheltered until they were 18. Food and shelter, no education, no schools, run by one Franciscan friar named Omar. They ate meat once a month.
“Now there are 540 boys who are totally self sustaining. They raise chickens and eggs and goats. They had four old and non-functioning ovens that we repaired. Now they bake bread for the entire neighborhood community.
“We bought them a few sewing machines, now they make the uniforms for the Peruvian national soccer team and clothes for themselves and their community.
“We got them a few tools. Now they make shoes for the community and they have built a church with their egg money, including hand-finished pews, that seats 750 worshippers. They built everything except the foundation. And now they build furniture. Anything with the brand name Cuidad de los Ninos is well-regarded in Peru.
Sandy Ray, who owns Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Co., donated four computers and the groups installed Internet for $100 a year.
“Those kids worked at it and worked at it, looking for ideas for doing more. Now they’ve learned to grow green and yellow peppers using the feed bags from the chicken feed and they’ve about mastered raising lettuce hydroponically,” Mr. Watts said.
One of the orphans is now a jet pilot in the Peruvian air force.
Mr. Watts’s goal is to raise $21,000 each year, which puts 280 wheelchairs on the ground in Peru for distribution. The Lima Rotary visits villages and hospitals during the year to determine greatest need. “There are three times as many applicants as wheelchairs. I was in Yarmouth yesterday and John Rancourt, who’s a Yarmouth Rotarian, gave me $1,000. That’s 15 wheelchairs,” he said.
The Vineyard Rotary has also dug wells in a village and is looking to build a cistern in a town which gets water three hours a week from the Lima supply.
Mr. Klingensmith can be a tough man. He has been a cop and has run a security business. He wasn’t tough on Friday as he recounted the subjects of hundreds of photos he took. His favorite? “This one guy had spent years with a wheelbarrow for transportation. We watched him leave in his chair with his wife and kids. Not carrying him, with him,” he said.
Donations may be made to Martha’s Vineyard Rotary Club, PO Box 2151, The Bank of Martha’s Vineyard, Vineyard Haven, Ma. 02568, c/o Paul Watts.