The Crawfordsville Rotary Club has now sent 18 fire trucks to Mexico as the center piece of its international outreach. A program that Claude Johnson started 10 years ago with a modest goal of sending one or maybe two trucks has been exceeded beyond everyone's expectations. Hoping to help locally first, Claude's philosophy says any Hoosier fire department which needs fire trucks and/or equipment it will be supplied to them first and then to Mexico.

In fact, Claude and Rotary have facilitated equipping Michigan Town Volunteer Fire Department cadets and will soon be equipping Newberry Volunteer Fire Department from southern Indiana.

He is also helping Southmont High School with firefighter training by donating a fire truck and turnout gear. Even though most of the equipment is obsolete for front line use it is very useful for training purposes. Helping the schools in such a way could lead the students into a career path and/or help the local communities as a volunteer.

Many people know of the Rotary Club and the Johnson's goal to assist in keeping serviceable fire trucks and firefighting equipment out of our junk yards and landfills by making sure they go where they're needed both here and abroad; but little is known about the reception of the fire truck in Mexico. To show their gratitude for Rotary sending fire trucks and ambulances to Mexican communities in need, many small towns came together to host our stay in Mexico. While there we were able to see firsthand both their undeniable need and their humbling gratitude.

We were greeted at the airport by Juana Watson, former Governor Mitch Daniels liaison for Mexican and Latin American affairs, and Pachuca's SWAT commander, who escorted us to our hotel to get ready for the local fair in Pachuca. At the fair, which bore many similarities to our local 4-H fair, we watched local dancers honoring silver miners and met the Governor of Hidalgo, Francisco Olvera and the Mayor of Mineral de la Reforma, Guadalupe Romero and their wives. Chris Johnson presented them with gifts and expressed how glad we were to help their people and our sincere hope to help in the future. Immediately following this presentation was a dinner party with the Mayor, his wife, Juana Watson and many others.

The next day we were taken to Mineral de la Reforma where we were given a tour of the city, watched local dancers, visited monuments including the Prismas Basalticos in Huasca de Ocampo and listened to our tour guide Anna Patricia share some of the country's history and folklore. Sunday we took the three hour drive through the Sierra Madre Mountains to Calnali. We walked around their market where the Indigenous Village (Aztec people) sell forest products and buy their weekly groceries and other items. We were introduced to the Mayor of Calnali and his team who spoke of how moved they were that we were helping and how big of a heart Claude Johnson has. The Mayor and his team escorted us personally on a tour of the town and took us up the mountain to small villages around Calnali where the most needy people live.

It is widely known that people that live in third world countries are in need of assistance, but you truly do not grasp the severity of the squalor and poverty until you see it yourself. We visited a young couple's one room dirt floor home where the boards that constructed the walls did not touch, the roof was open in places and there isn't electricity or plumbing. Clean water is not available and drinking the water causes swollen stomachs from parasites. They are suffering from a lack of nutrition, education and the resources to change their dismal situation. This experience would have broken a heart of stone as you stare into true desperation.

We visited a sugar cane farm where we were greeted by the owner with open arms. They have to work around the clock for two months during harvest season. Chris was allowed to press sugar cane water and we were given samples of the edibles the farmer produces to make a living. As I shook the farmer's arthritic crippled hand I knew without a doubt that I have never worked that hard. After our tour we were taken to a hotel in downtown Calnali where the Mayor hosted dinner with a band and folklore demon dances by locals that volunteered. Following the entertainment we were presented with gifts and the Mayor gave a speech how grateful they are for Rotary, Claude's and Indiana's kindness. He spoke how important and life changing the fire truck from the Darlington, Indiana Fire Department is to their community and how it is going to save many lives and property. In a town where the buildings and homes are mostly connected to one another it is easy to see how if one catches fire many others could be lost as well. Chris then presented the Mayor and some of his team with gifts.

To further show their appreciation on Monday the Mayor of Calnali sent two of his drivers and Juana's son, Charlie, to escort us to the Pyramids of Tecotihuacan (Son & Moon) where we climbed the pyramid(s) and shopped.

During our stay in Mexico I felt safe and welcome by both the local governments and their people. I was moved by Rotary, Claude's and Juana's assistance to communities in need. I enjoyed all aspects of our trip but the emotional journey that Calnali took me on was by far my most memorable. It has forever changed who I am and who I will strive to be.

I want to thank both The Paper of Montgomery County and Rotary for an opportunity of a life time.