Nogales 2015 – Update

Just a quick update:

All of the team members survived the project and the Martins are on their way home. This was an outstanding year with over 1800 blankets, 348 coats and toys, over 1000 shoeboxes/backpacks/toys and 900 groceries plus 83 balls delivered. The store ran out of balls, so we have some dollars to put towards next year!

We visited two schools that now have water thanks to our club in combination with Mississauga West. Our drinking water fountain is the only access to water for many of the students at one of these schools. They cannot afford to buy bottled water.

We had donations from the state of Sonora, the municipality of Nogales and two congressmen as well as the Rotaract and a taxi service. We visited the mayor, who has promised to make certain that the school most in need of a drinking fountain is provided with free water every second day. One of the congressmen and representatives from the other and the state attended our closing celebration and promised continued support.

Every time I looked around more groceries, more blankets, more toys, and more people seemed to be arriving to help. The firemen and Rotaract provided security and managed the flow of people. Rotary families directed people through the confusion. We have more and more children of Rotary members taking charge of the project and by that I mean a 10 year old telling our team what was and was not appropriate for a boy or girl in selection of backpacks, etc.

The US partner, the Pantano Club has greatly upped their financial support of the project inspired by the Canadians.

There were two ceremonies to recognize long-time team member and friend Jim Aslin, who passed away suddenly in October. The weather caused a change in the plans hence the two ceremonies. One was a very quiet and intimate celebration, the other loud and lovely. Jim always wanted to be taken somewhere so the taxi company will be installing a memorial to him in their new cabs. The owner is a new member of the Rotary Club.

The president of the Nogales club has been in the position for 44 days. In fact he has been a Rotarian for 44 days. He was marvellous and completely overwhelmed.

We are tired and exhilarated and thank the club for all of the support. Again, thanks to our membership for the support.

Cheryl Ewing  [1] interview with Kirty & Jack [2] interview to Fito


Rotary and Beyond

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Rotary Profile – Cheryl Ewing

Cheryl Ewing can be described by anyone who knows her as passionate, determined, and dedicated.  And it is these traits that have helped her make a marked impact both locally and internationally!

Though born in Kitchener, Cheryl spent her formative years in the small railroad and mining town of Capreol. She raised a family in Kirkland Lake, but eventually made her way back to Waterloo Region. Working with the Elora Festival, Cheryl was invited by a local graphic designer to a Rotary meeting.  There she met a group of professionals active in their community.  Cheryl was intrigued by the fellowship and the opportunity to network with people outside of the arts. She joined the Rotary Club of Fergus but, when she launched her own business two years later, she transferred to a closer club, the Rotary Club of Kitchener.

And she got involved straight away!

“Rotarian Carol Wiebe told me to get involved in committees and I took it to heart,” said Cheryl, “and I am glad I did. That is where my true friendships came from.”

When, then District Governor Doug Vincent, invited volunteers to join him to see a ‘shoebox project’ taking place in Nogales, Mexico (a joint initiative between Pantano Club in Tucson and the Rotary Club in Nogales), Cheryl jumped at the opportunity. Cheryl had always been interested in learning about people in other parts of the world and felt this trip could help accomplish this. But what she found was way more than she bargained for.

“When I took my first trip to Nogales I finally truly understood the power of Rotary. The willingness of strangers to put us up and help us get to the project—the diversity among us, but at our core, common values— it was overwhelming.”

The project, now entitled “Shoebox & Beyond”, brings much-needed aid to two impoverished Mexican communities – Nogales and Aqua Prieta.  The program provides shoeboxes filled with necessities such as groceries, blankets, warm clothes, backpacks, hygiene supplies, and textbooks. Through the project they have also been able to provide the community medical supplies, firefighting equipment, educational fire safety colouring books, and one year, even an ambulance!

After four years with the project, one of the Nogales Rotarians said, “Cheryl, you keep coming back and we trust you because you do so.” Cheryl realized that her real success had been about building relationships with the Rotarians of Nogales; getting to know the people her work was helping on a deeper, richer level. Today she says the project is as much about going to visit friends as it is about doing the work of Rotary.

“It’s about sustainability; not necessarily in providing things, but in building sustainable relationships. By building these relationships, you truly know the people you are working with and helping, and they feel they can be honest with you about the needs of their community. Even better, understanding how much alike we are in our hearts, that this is where change takes place. That is the power of Rotary.”

Today Cheryl leads a District/US team of over a dozen volunteers to make the annual trip to Mexico. “Seeing the changes in the community as a result of our work, and being a major part of that, is something I am deeply proud of.”

In January of 2013 the Shoebox & Beyond project celebrated its 15th anniversary. And it shows no sign of stopping!

But Nogales isn’t Cheryl’s only Rotary accomplishment.  She has spent time with the Rotary Youth Exchange programme and even hosted an exchange student; she worked successfully with fellow Rotarian, Barry McLeod, to secure an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant proposal for the Peace Park at Waterloo RIM Park; and was Club President in the year that the club launched its inaugural strategic planning process. “I learned a lot about our club and our membership that year,” said Cheryl. “I was proud to be able to prepare the foundation for our first strategic plan.”

In 2012 Cheryl worked with the City of Kitchener staff to assemble a small fundraiser as part of the City’s elaborate New Year’s Eve celebrations. She worked quickly to assemble a team of volunteers, and as with most of Cheryl’s projects, it was a success. At the end of the evening, the City invited Cheryl and her team back for future years.

Beyond the modest dollars it raised, the event gave Rotary a very visible presence in the community. “It’s great when people see our Rotary signage and come up to thank us for what we do in the community,” said Cheryl.

This past year some of that gratitude spilled over onto social media. “It was nice to have the local politicians and City recognise us online; but when we started getting tweets and Facebook posts from the public…well, that was very cool.”

Today Cheryl provides that same sage advice she received to new Rotarians: get involved.  “You have to be open and willing and put yourself forward. Find what makes you passionate and know that you will have a group of committed people helping you”.

In addition to her busy arts consultancy, a full and rewarding Rotary life, and family, Cheryl always finds time for her other passion—dance.  “My love of dance has bridged the lack of a common language in my Rotary trips. In Brazil it led to a wonderful morning of dance with breast cancer survivors. A shared experience that words cannot transcend.”

And, as much as Cheryl has given to Rotary, she feels that she has been a recipient of its generosity as well. “The end of my year as Rotary President a member of my family was severely injured. I was stretched incredibly thin. But members visited him, asked about him, and offered their support to me. I was incredibly grateful for my Rotary family and humbled by their thoughtfulness.”

Shoebox & Beyond project, check out their Facebook page. To find out more about Rotary and how you can have an impact locally or globally, contact us by email at or visit our website, our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.

Day #4 Update from Nogales

It’s the day we’ve been waiting for. We wake early: breakfast, check out of our hotel, and store our luggage. No one can think of anything but the task ahead.

The American team has already left Tucson. They cross the border by foot and join us on the bus bound for the Nogales Rotary Club House. The lines were deep by the time we arrive. Recipients have been lining up since 3 a.m. The line goes down the street, winds around an empty piece of land next to the club, and further down the block. An endless sea of need, punctuated with bursts of music, dancing, and the occasional announcement.

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Now in its 16th year, we have learned a lot about the best way to
manage the 3,000 or more people who will come through. The Bomberos have helped in various capacities in the past, but are especially welcome this year. Generally the Rotaracts manage the crowds but they are away running their own project this year. One of many spinoffs that have come about because of the simple idea of giving gifts to children. Care is taken to alleviate the wait for those with mobility issues and the elderly. They separate those without tickets quickly but still these people wait patiently hoping that there will be something left.


Tables are set up outside of the clubhouse to hold groceries and blankets for those unable to negotiate the deep stairs into the clubhouse. They also hold extra blankets for those who have come simply seeking a blanket. The blankets have been donated by the State of Soriana, supplemented by Tucson and Canadian Rotarians.

A limited number of people can enter the club compound at a time. Here is where the children will come for a small gift or a coat. Many can barely contain themselves long enough to get out of the clubhouse; arms are flung into coat sleeves, gifts are hastily unwrapped.

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Those with grocery tickets are directed to the truck park alongside the club house. The truck has been provided by La Tienda Soriana and holds all the groceries we will distribute today. Each eligible recipient will receive two weeks’ worth of staples; beans, rice, oatmeal, milk, cookies, pasta, cornmeal, flour, tuna, tomato paste, lard, and soup base. Tickets are collected at each stage of the process.

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Over the course of the day, 851 bags of groceries, 1,108 blankets, 302 coats, 796 gift packages, 150 balls, and 102 matchbox toys are given out. Assorted mitts, hats, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are available to the families as well.

Though people are incredibly happy and grateful, there are difficult moments too.

My Spanish is not great, but even I can understand the heartbreak of a mother with only a grocery ticket, begging for a toy for her child, and us having none to give. We monitor our inventory right down to the last blanket to ensure we are not promising anything to people that we cannot deliver (our only flexibility is toys so that we can ensure the item is age and gender appropriate). We know that when we no longer have tickets, it means that all the items have been promised to someone.

In the days leading up to today, I have nightmares about accidentally giving out more tickets than we have items. It’s a system, and any system has its shortcomings. We try to keep accurate records of the previous year as a guide, but it doesn’t always work. Nogales is a community of people who change over time. Some years we will see a surge of infants, other years hardly any. It is difficult to truly prepare for this.

As the day winds down, and the stacked supply tables slowly recede, I see the proud faces of the 7 and 10 year old daughters of the Nogales Club President. They often help us prepare. This year they brought their own toys to give to the children in line. The girls realize the importance of helping others in their community. The importance of ‘service above self”.

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In three hours over 3000 people have been through the lines. A few bags of groceries, some blankets, and coats are all that remain at the end of the day. The Bomberos pack them up and take them to the families who live along the dump.


My Rotary colleagues and I are all exhausted but happy. We go through ceremonies to thank all those organizations who contributed, to receive official greetings, and then to share food. Very quickly the day ends, we disperse to return to own countries, our ‘normal’ lives.

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For me, I will take a day to reflect; on the day, the experience, the people of Nogales. I will turn it over in my mind. What can be done differently? What can be done better? What should we stop doing to focus on other things? More importantly, how can we raise more in the coming year to help even more people?

But those are questions for tomorrow. Tonight I will sit down with my American friends and enjoy the feeling of knowing that 3000 families will go to bed tonight with a full stomach, and a warm blanket. We are committed to continue to return to address the needs of the family and those Bomberos working so hard to keep them safe.

Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener

Day #3 Update from Nogales

Today was the day we had set aside for distributing tickets redeemable for blankets, gifts or food. Working closely with the Bomberos (Firefighters) and members of the Monster Team Nogales (“guys with jeeps”), teams of three (Canadians and Americans) travelled to various areas of the city determined to be in need. We ensured that at least one member of each team could speak both Spanish and English.

Word spread quickly as each team arrived in the various neighbourhoods. People lined up in the hope of securing the tickets needed to receive the much-needed items. Volunteers issued various tickets, depending on the type of items the families are most in need of. The tickets would be redeemable the following day during the highly-coordinated distribution from 9 am until noon.
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Almost 3000 tickets are distributed in a single day; redeemable for everything from food to gifts, coats to blankets. As with Christmas gift programs in Canada, teens typically are the ones with the fewest age appropriate gifts, so the volunteers supplement by giving them blankets. The youth here don’t seem to mind or feel slighted, they are happy to have been thought of at all.


It is heartening to hear the people respond to our question “how many niños” with a proud honesty despite their poverty. They reply “six” and the next would tell us that they have none. They are unbelievably patient and grateful.

As we distribute the tickets we are forced to make hard decisions. I hate this part of the project. It is so difficult to try to measure poverty. How do you tell someone barely keeping their head above water that they are not “poor enough” to receive a ticket? These decisions are painful. Soul crushing. You have be strong enough to say “no”, when everything in you is screaming “please take two”. But you must to ensure there is enough for the families and children in the next colonia (neighbourhood). And the colonia after that. And after that.

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My team was dispatched to the dump. I was there last year and was appalled to see that the number of ‘homes’ in this area has doubled. It is heartbreaking. My job this time was to take photos, which allows me to distance myself to some extent. For this I am grateful. Witnessing the conditions they must live in—must raise their children in—is incredibly difficult for all of us. Even the Bomberos. They have no electricity and any clean water must be bought with the meager amount they earn scavenging through the dumpsite for anything that can be sold. It is a living; though barely.

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It takes us only three hours to complete our mission and return to the club. On the way, we stop so the Bomberos can push a stalled vehicle to a downgrade where they can try to restart their engine. All of the Bomberos vehicles are equipped for such ‘emergencies’.

After lunch, most of the team returns to the hotel for some down time. A few of us go on to see the Number One Fire House. It’s the oldest fire house in Nogales. I visited the House my first trip to Nogales. I was even given the privilege of sliding down the pole!

The Bomberos are very proud of the work they are doing and they should be. Last summer they offered a summer camp program, and 400 children got to go to camp! Many for the first time ever. There is no cost to participate (the families couldn’t have spared the money if they did) and if the photos they showed me were any indication, the kids had a fabulous time!

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The Bomberos showed me the compressor equipment that had been donated to them. The compressor allows them to refill their air tanks more quickly and efficiently than in the past. This is important with a community with an official population of 250,000 people to protect. The Fire House has only 30 professional firefighters and another 115 volunteers. They receive their training in Arizona, then return to their country to train other firefighters, firefighting teams, and volunteers. They are proud to be known as the best firefighting team in their State. They continue to perfect their skills, and hope one day to be the best in in the country.


I am proud of my own club’s efforts to help this team where we can, so they can meet this goal. Jim Aslin of the Rincon Club in Tucson has also taken on the Bomberos as a project helping to equip an ambulance that our club sent down last year. This year we were able to present three jackets from the Waterloo Fire Department. As always, they are grateful. Every little bit helps, they say.

By eight we have returned to the clubhouse to finish the few final preparations, share some food and laughter with friends old and new, and prepare ourselves before the final day. Some of us stayed for hours afterwards, having fun. Wonderful to see both kids and adults line dancing or performing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  The youngest son of Past President Apolitico could make a living with his screams!


Later, President Fito and I talk about the challenges his club faces. He tells me that all Mexican border towns and cities struggle with the same problem. People from southern Mexico and South America flocking to the border expecting to find the “American Dream”.

They dream of getting across the border—no matter the reality. Because they have no plans to stay in Mexico, they don’t set down roots. They do what they can to survive until the day they can begin their dream. But their dream is impossible.

What this will do to generations is frightening to me. The Mexico that I know well is not the beautiful tourist cities with their warm beaches and abundance of food and drink. It is the reality of a northern border cities, which can be harsh, cold, and unforgiving. My friends here are sad that this is the Mexico I know.

Yet, even in their adversity, there is an incredible beauty in the people of Nogales. Their culture, their faith, and their incredible gratefulness. It’s what keeps drawing me back.

Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener

Day #2 Update from Nogales (and a recap from Day 1)

Because we brought so much with us, supplemented generously by our American friends, we were able to skip additional shopping and get straight to work.  Although, our resident sports enthusiast, Cam Yule, did make TWO trips to buy balls for the local children. Everyone who passed his cart overflowing with soccer balls couldn’t resist touching the balls–adults and children. When it comes time for distribution, I am not sure who will be more excited, Cam or the kids!


We made arrangements for our grocery distribution today. We were able to negotiate a great price for two weeks’ worth of staples thanks to La Tienda Soriana. 850 bags will be distributed on Sunday, 300 of these will go directly to people who are reliant on the Nogales Food Bank. We have over 1100 blankets for those in need, and will spend tonight counting the numerous gifts.

This morning we attended a ceremony thanking Rotarians for their support of the school through the provision of drinking water. Members of the Club Rotario de Nogales A.C. and Tucson’s Rincon Club were present to hear the presentation made by educators and even the children. During the ceremony there was a public commitment that the City of Nogales would also support this project.

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We were honoured to announce a further commitment from a member of our club, Don Zehr, as well as the Rotary Club of Mississauga. It is my hope that our club will join the Mississauga Club in a matching grant for next year. It still astonishes me that at least a dozen schools do not have drinking water for the school children.

We traveled on to a second school; the first school built in Nogales (1920). They’d also received a drinking fountain but needed an engineer to inspect it. The water only came out in a trickle; its pressure too low to push it through the many lengths of pipes. Water is not freely available in Nogales, and the water tank is too far away for the amount of water pressure currently available. The Nogales Club is working with the parents of the schools so that they are invested in the ongoing maintenance and security of the fountains. Sustainability is an important goal to everyone.

Tonight, we returned to the club to prepare for tomorrow’s distribution and were delighted to find an incredible meal prepared for us. Bags were packed, gifts sorted by gender and age, blankets and coats put in their place. We put together the shelves we purchased for the local community centre to hold all the supplies. The Nogales Club has undertaken the future programming of the centre.


A small group of us visited a nearby school for disabled children. The needs of the children and the school, are incredible. The team separated; some returning to the hotel to rest in preparation for the evening’s activities, the rest went to La Tienda Soriana to buy more balls (courtesy of Cam!) and to make arrangement for the groceries.

Tonight we gathered again for dinner and celebration of our work and friendships.

DAY #1 Update from Nogales:


Good morning all. Things are going well now that we are all here in Nogales. Well almost. Travel and luggage issues seemed to slow us down, but not deter us!I crossed over on Wed, a day late thanks to travel issues. Yesterday I had breakfast with the firemen. They need anything we can provide. What they don’t need they forward to other locations that have less than they do. They are about to open another station. Nogales census population is 350,000 but in reality it is closer to half a million. The department is the best equipped in the state thanks to the US and our donations. We have three haz mat jackets we will deliver today.I also visited an orphanage that is in a new building. The Club President’s wife would like to start some programming there.After a lot of dancing at the border we got supplies across. It is incredible what has been gathered. I will send an inventory later. The Sonora State governor donated 750 blankets. Very warm ones.

Today we are visiting a school where the Mexican club has put in a water fountain. Don Zehr has made a donation to the project.

We will also visit the food bank and drop off some food tickets.

This afternoon we will finish preparing for Sunday’s distribution.
Please enjoy a few photos of the project work to-date.

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Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener