Lehigh Valley volunteers return safely
When a group of six volunteers from the Lehigh Valley came together to complete a volunteer service project, they had no idea they would be at the Brussels, Belgium Airport during a terrorist attack.
Herb Klotz, president of the Allentown West Rotary, Chris Hornaman, Emmaus Rotary, Carl Zvanut and Tom Powers with Engineers Without Borders, Jennifer Homan, assistant superintendent and Pete McKnight, teacher, of the Northwestern Lehigh School District, traveled to the western African country of Sierra Leone at the beginning of March to complete a joint global grant project with Rotary International and Engineers without Borders.
The global grant focus has been a partnership with the Centennial Secondary School in the rural village of Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone. This school had been ransacked by rebels during a civil war.
This is the eighth trip for Engineers Without Borders’ volunteers. Two years ago, the team completed drilling a well and sanitation, which has been sustainable. Last year, the team was unable to go because of the Ebola epidemic, according to Klotz, of Macungie, who is also a member of Engineers Without Borders.
“The project is going well,” Klotz said. “This was the best trip ever.”
This March, the team completed the installation of solar panels and electricity for the school which has not had electricity for 25 years. Additionally, two teachers from Northwestern Lehigh School District traveled with the team, supported by the Allentown West Rotary and a district grant. The goal of the teachers was to conduct an assessment for a potential vocational training team.
The team was expected to return home March 21. Their flight was delayed a day. On March 22, their flight took them to the Zaventem airport in Brussels, Belgium where they were in transit when two explosions hit. A third explosion was on a subway. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks.
“We were not in the area where the bombs went off and we did not hear anything,” Klotz said. “All of the sudden, we saw people running through the terminal. Then security officials asked us to move to the end of the terminal. It was very orderly. There was no panic where we were.
“We went to the end of the terminal and then to the tarmac. It was about 40 degrees and as we had just come from Africa, we were not prepared for the cold weather. The airline provided blankets for us and then bused us to another section of the airport and then to a train station. We secured a hotel in a town 30 kilometers outside of Brussels in a village called Leuven.”
The local Rotary Club of Leuven was contacted and within a short time and some Rotarians from that club offered assistance. It took a few days before the team was able to leave Belgium with the help of the Rotarians and into Germany. Klotz said the people from Belgium were extremely helpful as well.
All volunteers returned home safely to their families.
A special thank you is given to the volunteers for their courage and the impact they made despite some overwhelming challenges.
Engineers Without Borders is an all-volunteer, national nonprofit organization. Their goal is to execute engineer projects that help struggling communities build basic infrastructure-making them more self- sufficient.
Rotary International connects 1.2 million members from more than 200 countries as a global network of volunteers who dedicate their time and talent to tackle the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.
Two fundraisers are planned to continue the global work. The first is an opportunity sponsored by Engineers Without Borders to meet an astronaut 6 p.m. April 1 at De Sales University Union Building. For more information, visit Ewb-lvp.org.
The second fundraiser is 4 p.m. May 15 at the Holiday Inn, Fogelsville, “Tempting Tastes” sponsored by the Allentown West Rotary. For more information, visit www.temptingtastes.net.