Local Rotarians improve lives in Honduras


Donna Guzzo, president and CEO of First Coast Cultural Center, president and CEO of Language Exploration Enrichment (L.E.E.) St. Johns and United Nations Ambassador of Sustainable Development Goals recently returned from a humanitarian mission to rural villages in Honduras.

Guzzo traveled to the Central American region with Sherry Mahoney and Byron Miller, fellow members of Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach. They helped to provide clean water projects, improve latrine facilities, install filtration systems and additional projects in Chichimora, Comayagua, Danli, La Palilleria and Maraita. Through Guzzo’s organizations, she provided educational and art supplies to children and schools in the rural locations.

Guzzo, Mahoney and Miller also focused on teaching local children and adults, village leaders and local school teachers about Water and Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) methods initiated and funded by worldwide Rotary Clubs, Rotary International and Pure Water for the World programs.

WASH projects include services such as renovating toilet facilities and introducing fresh, clean water through household filtration systems for food preparation, drinking, personal hygiene and handwashing, among others.

“For example, the importance of clean and fresh water for handwashing is saving and changing lives," said Guzzo. “Children are able to survive their early years due to the elimination of water-borne diseases. We also provided the villagers and school leaders with de-worming medications for overall health reasons.”

Guzzo stated the water filtration systems are designed with containers, filters, sand and tubing, which after time, cleans the water. Water sources originate from local ponds, streams and rivers which are used for various forms of unsanitary purposes.

Additionally, Guzzo, a Latina and fluent Spanish speaker, helped the United Nations with its goal to bring potable water to people in rural communities. In her role with the L.E.E. Spanish program, she and the organization’s Vice President Janet Robles will incorporate key activities from the trip into the Spanish curriculum by teaching Northeast Florida children about the culture of Honduras and its people.

According to Mahoney, who is the enterprise clinical nutrition manager at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, the American group also educated Hondurans about the importance of girls staying in school after puberty, and to feel safe with privacy in the bathrooms.

“Prior to the recent sanitation improvements, girls had to stay home when menstruating,” said Mahoney. “Now, with outdoor latrines more suitable for the girls, there is better school attendance."

The process of the projects involves partnerships with local nonprofits and Rotary International Clubs where Rotarians volunteer within their budgets.

Guzzo, Mahoney and Miller plan to monitor the projects for three years with documentation and photos from the village leaders as an indicator that funds have been appropriated and maintained by the local communities.

According to Guzzo, Honduras is being characterized as a migratory passage for people traveling north from Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and beyond.

“Migration through Honduras has continued to evolve, with hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the borders every day representing nine different nationalities,” said Guzzo. “Delivering safe water, sanitation and hygiene programming is imperative to meet the unprecedented needs placed on local communities.”

For seven days, Guzzo and her team travelled approximately two hours by truck from the more populated towns where they stayed to the rural mountain villages. Hygiene kits were also distributed to men, women and children in the villages.

According to Miller, who recently retired from the water purification industry in the U.S., as one of life’s important necessities, water is pivotal in determining poverty status.

“Access to clean water can increase food security and the probability of gaining employment,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, more than 2 billion people lack access to clean water, leading to millions of medical conditions with cholera and a plethora of neglected tropical diseases. We helped to prevent waterborne illnesses, prioritize the importance of clean water and counteract negative health trends. Unfortunately, the lead organization, Pure Water For The World (PWW), after 24 years of service is closing due to lack of funding. However, there are private individuals and companies looking to continue the efforts. We hope that more grassroots efforts will improve the lives of people in poverty by granting them access to clean water and proper sanitation.”

As an educator, Guzzo will include #TeachSDGs global goals and activities from throughout Central America with a myriad of activities at First Coast Cultural Center and L.E.E. classes in 2024.

“Through education and studying different cultures, we can help to promote human rights and dignity, remove poverty, and develop sustainability,” she said.

For more information, contact Guzzo at 904-280-0614, ext. 1201, or email dguzzo@firstcoastculturalcenter.org. Or go to firstcoastculturalcenter.org and leestjohns.pbworks.com.