Spearheaded by Rotarian Ron Grue, volunteers complete school building.

The community of Otoxha, Belize, has a new school, thanks to the Rotary Club of Camrose and its generous supporters.

"They are very appreciative of what Rotary and our community has done for them," explained Ron Grue, who spent a month in Otoxha from the end of January to the end of February spearheading the school's construction.

"The school is something they have needed for quite some time."

The school was built at a total cost of approximately $23,000 with $16,000 of that amount coming from the Rotary Club of Camrose. The remainder was collected by Grue before he left from friends, relatives, businesses and Messiah Lutheran Church.

"The actual cost was $23,300," said Grue, "but that included the solar system, which was part of the Rotary budget for next year."

Grue arrived in Otoxha Jan. 26 and immediately set about staking and levelling the site.

"The trucks filled with materials started arriving the second day I was there," said Grue. "The second one came at about 6 at night after I and all the people from Otoxha who were helping me had put in a long day. I was too tired to do anything so they unloaded it themselves until 9:30 at night. The truck was at the bottom of the hill so they had to form a chain gang to move all the materials, including the cement blocks, to the site. The camaraderie was just amazing. Even though it was extremely hard work they were whooping and hollering and having a good time."

The pouring of the cement floors and footings was completed by the end of the first week.

"We mixed all the cement for the footings by hand but we did get a gas powered cement mixer from the church which we used for the floors," said Grue. "When we laid the blocks everything was mixed by hand."

Grue was assisted in the project by five other Camrose Rotarians. Keith Carlson and LeRoy Johnson arrived in the second week to assist with the cleaning and placement of blocks used in the walls, while Gord Schmidt, Maurice Francoeur and Ken Roberts arrived in the third.

"Gord was able to take charge of the rafters and the metal work, which I was very thankful for because I just hate metal," said Grue. "Maurice did a lot of the electrical wiring while Ken did a lot of the cutting of wood that was needed to fill in between the rafters.

"Without the work they did I wouldn't have been able to do the project in a million years."

The arrival of the other Rotarians was welcome in another way for Grue as it meant he was able to get some of the foods he had been missing.

"The first week was especially tough food wise because all I had to eat was corn tortillas and beans or corn tortillas and a little bit of rice. When the other Rotarians came they brought granola bars, eggs, and other foods to supplement what we were getting. In the first week I might have received one tiny little piece of chicken. We are so used to a protein diet and they don't have that other than beans. And the breakfast, dinner and supper was always the same."

The only person Grue hired for the build was a mason.

"I made an agreement with him that I would pay him $25 Canadian a day, $50 Belize, and he was happy with that, but after he worked for a week I could see he was very good and that he would actually teach the local workers how to do things, so I increased his pay to $35 a day," said Grue. "In the entire three weeks he was there I think I paid him $450 Canadian."

Grue always encouraged the workers from Otoxha to take ownership of their new school. When questioned by the locals as to what they were doing was good enough he replied by asking them whether they felt it was good enough.

"I told them it was their school not mine, and that I was just one of the guys to help out. I did a lot of work but my main job was planning and staying ahead of things so that when something was needed it was ready and available."

In the entire project, Grue never laid one cement block.

"I showed them (the people of Otoxha) how to do it with the first one but after that it was up to them," said Grue. "They were very apprehensive about trying something new but if you encouraged them they would do it. In the end they were proud of what they had accomplished."

After the placement of the roof and the departure of his Rotarian colleagues, Grue spent the last full week assisting with the plastering of the walls, laying of all the sidewalks, and installing 200 linear feet of hardwood shelves for the school's library and computer room.

"It was a good feeling to get everything completed," said Grue. "I was thankful that before I left I was able to see the kids actually sitting at their desks."

Work on the final two days consisted of making improvements to the electrical system.

"The school had been wired I don't know how many years ago and everything was to the breaker panel but it had never been connected to a power source," said Grue. "Once I got everything hooked up to the generator and it was working I told them to turn on the lights on the school. The kids thought it was really cool to have lights on in the school."

One of the things that impressed Grue the most about the project was the quality of wood that was used.

"The two by fours I had ordered for the trusses were over two inches thick and over four inches wide, and were hardwood," said Grue. "We would die to have that lumber here. That roof that we built will be there forever and always."

The school's formal dedication on the final Sunday was followed by a feast of pigs cooked by the women of Otoxha.

"I brought candy for the kids and the adults and passed it around," said Grue.

Though the school is finished, Grue is already looking for other ways he can help the people of Otoxha improve their quality of life.

"I would like to hook up some kind of system to bring water from a waterfall that is nearby because the water they have available in the rainy season is not that great," said Grue. "I would also like to help them buy a mixer so they can grind the corn that they are feeding to the pigs. If they grind the corn the pigs will be able to get more nutrients and be able to grow faster."

The Rotary Interact Club at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant School will be painting the new school in Otoxha when they go there at the end of this month.

"There are 17 students that are going to get the experience of a lifetime being in this village for two days," said Grue. "They are actually going to be able to live and eat in people's homes as we did. To me it was an awesome experience."

SOURCE: The Camrose Booster, 26 March 2013. Author: Dan Jensen