HANDS OF LOVE Invermere Rotary Club member Rod Turnbull (third from left, back row) joins children at the Manos de Amor orphanage in Mexico help to celebrate its grand opening on December 2nd. Photo submitted.

By Daniel Betts

Special to The Pioneer

When Invermere Rotarian, Rod Turnbull, travelled to Mexico earlier this winter, he had no idea he would participate in an auspicious celebration: the opening ceremony of the Manos de Amor orphanage in Bucerias, Mexico, 17 kilometres north of Puerto Vallarta.

While on vacation in Mexico, Mr. Turnbull visited the orphanage to take pictures and unexpectedly took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 2nd. Heidi Byrd, a member of Club Rotario Bahia de Banderas, organized the event.

Two years ago the Rotary Club of Invermere joined forces with Club Rotario Bahia de Banderas and through the Rotary Matching Grants program funded the construction of a desperately needed full commercial kitchen facility.

The money raised by the Rotary Club of Invermere was matched by Rotary International, and this sum matched by the Canadian International Development Agency, quadrupling the original funds.

The Manos de Amor, or Hands of Love, orphanage is located in a low-income area of Bucerias, and is home to 31 children of all ages. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony the children came out and offered hugs of gratitude to all the Rotarians.

The Rotary Club has really embraced this project, noted Mr. Turnbull. The children are all very much aware of their [The Rotary Clubs] efforts, he added.

The Rotary Club of Invermeres association with orphanages goes back to the days of Del and Bev Hoffman. For years the Hoffmans would load up their motorhome for winter holidays and visit orphanages in Mexico delivering clothes, toys and blankets, with Rotary Club assistance,

Sadly Del and Bev Hoffman were both brutally murdered in Mexico in December 1999 by two American men at an isolated rest area. To commemorate them the Rotary Club of Invermere started a fund in their name.

The Hoffman Fund was used to start a project called Leer y Crecer, Spanish for Read and Grow, with the aim of spreading literacy to Mexican schoolchildren.

During his visit this winter, Mr. Turnbull took a trip to Independencia Elementary School, in San Vicente, Nayarit. This was the 10th school to enter the reading program, aided by the Hoffman Fund.

There he met with Lisa Schalla who guides the Leer y Crecer project in Mexico. National honour society students from the American School of Puerto Vallarta a private international school independent of the United States visit and read with the less-fortunate students of Independencia Elementary School.

This program is to foster recreational reading starting at a young age in impoverished communities and schools, Mr. Turnbull said.

In the program, wealthy children are placed with poor children to teach them how to read recreationally. Small libraries are opened and kids are encouraged to take books home to read to their parents.

Using the Hoffman Fund, books were purchased for the school. Initially they did not have space for a library so an extra-large classroom had to be divided and renovated.

The Hoffman legacy continues in Mexico and to make the program bigger, the Rotary Club will need more assistance in memory of this well-known couple.

The Rotary Club of Invermere welcomes any contributions to the reading/library program set up in the name of the Hoffmans. To make a donation call 250-342-2889.