Posted by Peter Martin
Back in 2011, my wife and I were touring the Mayan ruins of Central America. During our visit to Copán Ruinas in the western highlands of Honduras, we made a side trip to a Mayan village where the mothers make corn husk dolls for sale to tourists. As we were leaving, a young girl came up to me and said: “My house is down the hill. Can I walk down with you?” After we parted, I thought it was odd she was chatting to me in English rather than Spanish. My curiosity led me...
... to search the Internet for bilingual schools in the area, and I found the Mayatan school in town. I sent them a photo I had taken and asked: “Is this one of your students?”  “Yes, that’s Sara,” they said, “... and how would you like to sponsor her in school?” We had done this before in Ecuador, so it wasn’t a big decision.
We started making an annual visit to Copán, and met some of the locals. I learned about the extreme poverty in the region, especially in the mountain villages where most of the Mayan people live. I started dreaming about a second career to provide aid to the region, to help break the cycle of poverty.
In 2013, I joined the Fidalgo Island Rotary Club, famous for its heavy emphasis on international projects. I learned that many clubs want to support international projects, but they have difficulty getting started. From a distance it is hard to identify good in-country partners, to know who to trust, and to find projects where your club can be actively engaged.
To solve this problem, and to better help the Mayan people, I proposed that a group of local Rotary clubs should work together in Copán. Now with 10 member clubs, we call ourselves the International Project Alliance (IPA). Over the past five years, we have grown rapidly and we fund projects covering almost every aspect of international aid. Each year we sponsor almost 2,000 village students from kindergarten to college, and we fund about 30 projects in construction, water, health, economic development, etc. We visit Copán four times per year to manage projects and build relationships. Our partner in Copán is the Rotary club of Copán Ruinas.
We see a lot of Sara of course, and she has become part of our extended family. She is now a senior in high school, and is thinking about career choices. I like to remind her that the IPA story only happened because she asked me on that fateful morning in 2011: “Can I walk down with you?”
-- Peter Martin

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