A Miracle Happens in Colombia: Chelsea Rotary Club Helps Build New Health Center in South American Nation

Juan Gallego (back row, right) of the Chelsea Rotary Club is pic¬tured with parents and children who live in gitodokabu, Colom¬bia. Through the efforts of and the Chelsea Rotary Club in the Colombian Project, funds were raised and a new health center was built in this remote area of the nation.

Juan Gallego is well known to Chelsea residents as a businessman and an organizer who makes things happen.

As a longstanding member of the Rotary Club of Chelsea and its president-elect, Gallego has regularly affirmed the organization’s commitment to community service that is symbolized in its motto, Service Above Self.

Gallego took his community service to another level with his chairmanship of the Chelsea Rotary Club’s Colombian Project, a humanitarian effort in Colombia in which he helped build a health center in a remote part of that country that is located in the continent of South America.

In 2007 Gallego, a native of Colombia, first approached Chelsea Rotary members about his idea to build a new health center in a remote jungle area for an indigenous community in Gitodokabu, Colombia. The ethnic group living in that area is known as Embera Katio.

“When I was traveling on a Rotary International mission [Rotaplast, a program for cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for poor children] in Colombia, I met a group of nuns (Las Lauritas], who informed me that the community of Gitodokabu lacked any health care services.”

Gallego said the nuns described the health situation in Gitodokabu as “critical.” “They told me that children were dying in their effort to travel to a health center from the remote mountainous region where they live. It literally takes five to eight hours for families to get to a health center.”

Gallego said Chelsea Rotary members agreed to support The Colombian Project and helped raise $50,000 in funds to help build the health center in Colombia.

The construction of the health center in the remote area was a gargantuan task.

“The area was so isolated and the region so mountainous that it took 1,200 trips by mules to transport the materials to the village,” said Gallego. “The journey had begun with trucks bringing those materials to a certain point. From there on, the mules took the materials up horse paths to the village.”

The one-floor facility, with four beds for patients, a laboratory, and community room, is now up and running and being used by the 1,800 people who live on the reservation. Physicians are at the health center on a regular basis.  There is a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day while other staff assist at the health center.

Gallego said the new health center and its staff have saved lives. “Malaria and other diseases have plagued the community and they have been able to help patients address these serious health issues,” said Gallego.

Following an inauguration ceremony for the health center in February, 2011, a team of 12 physicians held a clinic and saw 600 patients in one day. Government officials and representatives from the Rotary Club in Colombia [Pereira del Otum], who had worked in collaboration with the Chelsea Rotary and the Caritas Foundation, thanked Gallego profusely for his diligent efforts.

Gallego is understandably proud of his fellow Chelsea Rotary members for their assistance. As a result of Gallego’s initiative and the support and generosity of the Rotary Club of Chelsea, families and children thousands of miles away now have a full-staff health center in operation 24 hours a day in their community.

“They love our Rotary Club,” said Gallego, relating how the Gitodokabu community responded to the opening of the center.”

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