Member interview: Colombian club's support for hospital spans decades


From the November 2015 issue of The Rotarian

The Rotary Club of Cartagena, Colombia, has worked to bring health care to poor children for almost seven decades. Most recently, with support from a Rotary Foundation Global Grant and Rotarians around the world, the club has obtained more than $200,000 to provide pediatric cardiac care. Past club president German Spicker rounded up funds from Switzerland to Japan to help make it all happen.

THE ROTARIAN: Tell us about your city.

SPICKER: Cartagena is a city of contrasts. You find beautiful places that look like Miami Beach. But much of our population lives in poverty. The poorest people live in wooden homes, about 10 or 12 people together with no running water. Many don’t eat three meals a day; they have one or two meals. They are in bad health conditions.

TR: How does your club help those people?

SPICKER: In 1947, a member of the Rotary Club of Cartagena founded the Hospital Infantil Napoleón Franco Pareja to serve the children of the city. It is known as La Casa del Niño, the Children’s Home. The hospital never says no to anyone. It helps close to 80,000 children yearly.

In 2013, one of our past club presidents, Jaime Trucco Lemaitre – he is a pediatrician at the hospital – invited us to help with the New Heart Project, which would provide specialized equipment for an operating room for children’s heart surgery. Children with congenital heart disease had to be taken by plane to Bogotá or Medellín, and in most cases, they died, because time was critical.

That same year, my wife, Gloria, and I flew to the States to visit family. On our way back, I was sitting next to a woman, Anne-Marie von Wunschheim, in the Miami airport. My wife talked to her and found out that she is from Switzerland, had adopted a Colombian family, and raised money to build a new home for them. We were impressed, and I said, “Why don’t you become our ambassador in Switzerland?” She found a Swiss Rotarian, a past district governor named Urs Herzog, and because of him, the Rotary Club of Bottmingen-Birseck donated $50,000 to our project. This is a lesson: You have someone sitting by your side, and you never know whether that person can change your life.

Clubs from seven districts on four continents – North America, South America, Europe, and Asia – have contributed to the New Heart Project. The operating room was just completed, and already we have saved 47 lives.

Our club has spent almost its whole existence collecting funds for this hospital. We thank God that we have had the opportunity to work with The Rotary Foundation, because we have been able to make a significant impact. Here’s an example. Let’s say that a rich gentleman wants to give $100,000 to the hospital. We say, “Wait a moment. Let’s do it the Rotary way.”

TR: What does that mean?

SPICKER: Instead of giving the check to the hospital and feeling you have accomplished your job, we invite Rotarians from all over the world to help us raise another $100,000. Then we knock at the door of the Foundation for help. [For global grants, the Foundation matches DDF contributions 100 percent and cash contributions 50 percent.] What bank will tell you that it will multiply by four whatever you put into a project? This is magic. And this is Rotary.



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