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Brooksville Rotary gives old school bus new life in Haiti

After listening to the stories of Dr. Paul Farmer, who helped form Partners in Health 26 years ago, the Brooksville Rotary Club decided to find a way to help in Haiti.

Courtesy of Dr. Paul Farmer (2004)

After listening to the stories of Dr. Paul Farmer, who helped form Partners in Health 26 years ago, the Brooksville Rotary Club decided to find a way to help in Haiti.

The 1996 Ford did long service in this country, where it is assumed that children will have access to public schools and rides to and from them, where a bus like this one is usually one vehicle in a big fleet.

It will go to a country, Haiti, where none of that is true. Where education is neither free nor universal, where one bus can help fill a major void — carrying students whose opportunities are blocked by a lack of transportation to a new vocational school run by the Haitian arm of the international health care organization Partners in Health.

That the complexities of overseas transport have delayed the delivery of the bus from the original date of Oct. 1 to sometime in the next few weeks is unfortunate, but maybe appropriate.

It gives us an opportunity this Thanksgiving season to think about how much we have and our obligation to share some of it with others.

This particular act of sharing was inspired, as many have been, by Paul Farmer, the Hernando High School graduate who helped found Partners in Health 26 years ago.

After Farmer received the annual Great Brooksvillian award in 2008, Gretchen Pingley and other members of Brooksville Rotary Club started thinking about ways to help, she said.

Partners in Health connected them with a Rotarian in Greenville, S.C., Charles Warne, whose wife, Gilliane, runs Zamni Agrikol, which is Haitian Creole for "partners in agriculture."

Since 2004, the organization has worked with farmers in Haiti's Central Plateau, where Farmer started treating poor patients nearly 30 years ago.

Zamni Agrikol provides farmers with training, seeds and tools, as well as trees to prevent erosion and restore the denuded landscape.

Partners in Health, in turn, provides a market for these farmers' products, buying the peanuts for Nourimanba, a fortified peanut butter used to fight malnutrition, which is the leading cause of death among children 5 years and younger.

More recently, Zamni Agrikol started an agricultural and vocational school, teaching high school graduates farming and other trades needed to rebuild the country after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

If they can get there.

Warne told Pingley that students walk as much as two hours each way to the school.

"They need more students, and the reason they don't have more students is that people can only walk so far," said Pingley, a longtime Rotary member who once taught physical education to Farmer at the old Brooksville Junior High School.

Though the Rotary has also provided two $2,500 scholarships at the school in Haiti, the bus has been its main Partners in Health project.

With the help of a $3,900 grant from the district Rotary foundation and $3,000 from Partners for Paul, a group led by his old friends in town, the Brooksville Rotary is pretty close to having the costs covered.

"We're very, very close," Pingley said.

That's partly because the total price for the bus, shipping and other expenses is, so far, slightly less than expected — about $13,500. And that's partly because of the help of Larry Van Fossen, who owns the Vans, Trucks and Cars dealership south of downtown Brooksville.

Van Fossen accompanied Pingley several months ago to the yard of BGA School Buses in Hudson.

He first noticed the Ford, which had come from Virginia, because of its relatively new tires. He crawled underneath to see that the undercarriage was rust free.

Its transmission, he saw, is an Allison, a premier brand. Under the hood, he found a Cummins diesel engine.

"Between the (transmission) and the power plant, which was pristine, I figured that with any luck at all it was going to be a very useful vehicle," said Van Fossen.

Maybe more useful than it's ever been.

Brooksville Rotary gives old school bus new life in Haiti 11/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 5:30pm]
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