Friday, January 20, 2012

Sam’s legacy thrives on through special Guatemalan project

Not many people get the chance to truly save another’s life. My cousin did, before his own life was cut short. Now, in his memory, one village’s children get a better education, as January marks the beginning of the new school year in Guatemala.
For three years Sam Clarke volunteered with the Guatemala Stove Project, the charity founded by my uncle Tom of which I’ve written before. In 2007, he helped as a photographer, taking photos of the families with their new, efficient ceramic cookstoves provided by Project donors. In one household, he noticed the mother was hiding a young girl behind her skirts. He investigated and discovered she suffered from a severely cleft palate.  
Among poor rural Guatemalans, disfigurement like this means a tragic life of shame, misery, poor health, and ostracism. But the Project helped this little girl and turned her life around. The Project covered her travel costs to a distant city where an American medical charity provided a series of surgeries. She can now speak and eat properly, fully participate in her family and community, and someday marry and have a family of her own.
Sadly, Sam’s own promising young life was cut short the following year, when he was struck and killed while biking from class at London’s Fanshawe College, where his passions for music and social justice were just beginning to be expressed. But his legacy lives on through the Sam Clarke Memorial Fund.
In 2009 the Fund built and equipped a schoolhouse in the remote Guatemalan village of Panimaquim. Named “Escuela Los Niños de Sam,” this two-classroom brick building provides the village’s 35 children with a good place to learn, complete with two-room latrine, washing station, and its own kitchen where local moms take turns cooking healthy meals. The Project initially funded two years of school lunches and has set up a chicken coop with 100 chickens as a self-sustaining source of food and income so students can continue to have a healthy lunch in years to come.
The Project’s next goal is a scholarship fund for higher education for a couple of the village’s children. This impoverished region would benefit greatly from the professional skills of a local doctor, nurse, lawyer, or teacher.
One of the Guatemala Stove Project’s strengths is flexibility. The $225 per stove that donors give allows for some extra discretionary funds which can be used for things like that young girl’s travel expenses, or for the wheelchair the project bought for a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy who was still being carried on his mother’s back. If you’d like to help with projects like these, or support the Sam Clarke Memorial Fund directly, please visit

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner. 

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