Chelsea Rotarian Realizes a Dream

Chelsea Rotarian, Juan Gallego, had a dream, and three years later, after months of talking, planning and fundraising, the dream has come true.

In spring of 2006, Juan volunteered for a medical mission in Perreira, Colombia to provide surgery to children with cleft lips and cleft palates. The mission was organized by Rotary International. Of the 271 children who received treatment, one had a truly remarkable story. Five year-old Juan Pablo arrived at the clinic after a four hour trek through the jungle and over the steep mountains, only to then take a four hour bus trip. He was accompanied by a Louritian nun who helps this isolated group of 1500 indigenous Colombians. This day long hike is the way these people “access” health care.

Juan Pablo had his surgery which in just a few short hours magically transferred his grotesquely misshapen appearance into a beautiful, perfectly rounded face. The trip was over, but Juan Gallego began to think about the families in this out-of-the-way region, and three years later, after many twists and turns, he had raised the $37,000 necessary to build a clinic in the remote district of Embera Katio. Now the clinic is set to have its grand opening on February 6. Services will be provided by two of the Louritian nuns, who are licensed nurses, and a rotating medical student.

For most of the residents of this scattered group of villages, a typical trip to the “outside world” means a 4-5 hour walk through the jungle and over narrow mountain paths followed by a dusty four-hour bus trip. The bus comes only twice a day, so a delay means a long wait by the side of the narrow highway. With only footpaths into the district, all building materials for the new clinic were hauled in by mule train. Over the course of several months, the entire project required an astounding 1,200 mule trips. To complicate matters, this indigenous group, the Embera Katio, speaks a unique language, unrelated to Spanish, and only a few of the men, who travel to the nearby towns to sell produce, speak pigeon Spanish. The site of the clinic is Gito Dokabu which roughly translates to “Children in the River”. The Louritian order of nuns was founded over 100 years ago, and their mission is to supply help to the impoverished in rural areas and they have been a focal part of this scattered community for generations.

Gallego raised the funds as part of a project for the Chelsea Rotary Club. Gallego was born in Colombia and emigrated at age 17. He is a real estate broker and developer in the Chelsea area. “When I met Juan Pablo three years ago, it just struck a chord. I just had to build this clinic, and now it’s almost done.”

Mr. Gallego is on the last leg of this long and winding trip. He needs only $6,000 more to equip the clinic. Tax exempt donations can be made to The Chelsea Rotary Club, POB 505647, Chelsea, MA, 02150. Contact Juan Gallego at 617-438-1224 for information about a January 12th fundraiser dinner at the Bella Isla Restaurant in Chelsea.

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