Taking the swoosh to Romania 

Whistler-Blackcomb and Rotary International provide aid to Romanian poor

With most of Eastern Europe on the path to prosperity after decades of decline under Soviet rule, the nation of Romania – once one of the wealthiest countries in Europe – has found itself playing catch-up.

Per capita, Romania is currently among the poorest countries in the region, with average wages decreasing by almost half as a result of a three-year recession leading up to 2000. Unemployment is a major problem, and 45 per cent of Romanians currently live below the poverty line.

For Rotary International, including the Whistler Rotary Club, and Whistler-Blackcomb, Romania is the perfect candidate for an aid initiative. The aid package includes used mountain uniforms from Whistler-Blackcomb, and mostly medical and educational materials from Rotary International.

"The problem with sending aid to a lot of these second and third world countries is that government, and state institutions… are so corrupt that you can’t count on any of your aid to get through to where it is needed," said Arthur DeJong, Whistler-Blackcomb manager of mountain planning and environmental resources.

DeJong spent a week in Romania in May sizing up the country and laying the groundwork for the aid program.

"Romania is unique in that if you don’t have the right person on the inside, someone who knows how government works and will champion your cause, then it’s not going to work," said DeJong.

He toured the country, visiting one of the orphanages that have become common in the country in recent years as a result of poverty, and a severely depressed coal town called Petrosani with more than 50 per cent unemployment.

He also spent five days with a radio station owner named Mehi, a journalist with experience as an aid worker, who volunteered to oversee the program on the Romanian side. Mehi grew up in Petrosani, a mountain town where most of the Whistler-Blackcomb clothing should end up.

The idea of providing material aid to second and third world countries came from Whistler’s own sustainability initiative.

"Looking at sustainability from a broader perspective, we realized that we will never achieve environmental sustainability without social sustainability. Societies that live in fear cannot take steps to improve the environment for future generations," said DeJong.

"And for Whistler, when the global economic condition is in disarray, it will translate back into our own economic condition here in Whistler, as a true global community."

They originally looked into offering aid to Africa, but the level of corruption made it difficult to get resources where they were needed. In talks with the International Red Cross and Rotary International, Romania came to the forefront.

While there is still some corruption at various levels, the country is working to become a member of the European Union, and there are progressive people like Mehi who are committed to helping Romania take the next step.

"We can stand back and say it’s too big a problem, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed, or we can take action. I believe we need to do this and more – every step counts, no matter how small," said DeJong.

The container, which is currently being distributed in Romania by representatives of Rotary International, contains 500 Whistler-Blackcomb ski and snowboard school uniforms, a collection of clothing from all departments, and the unclaimed contents of the Lost and Found.

Rotary International supplied hospital beds, first aid supplies, and writing and reading materials.

Whistler-Blackcomb and the Whistler Rotary Club will watch this first shipment carefully, and if everything goes well, more donations will be made in the future.

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