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Mendota Heights Humanitarian Wins $100,000 for Work in Bolivia

The mission of the local nonprofit is to bring development, health and education to the poorest of the poor.

Mendota Heights resident Segundo Velasquez has received $100,000 from the Opus Foundation to support the work of his nonprofit, Mano a Mano, which builds infrastructure and health clinics in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

In January 2011, Mendota Heights Patch published a two-part series on the Velazquezes and the organization they built:

Since 1994, the couple has been able to expand their reach by working from the ground-up: Bolivian locals noticing a need within their own community are the ones who solicit projects. Their needs are basic, but vital.

To date, Mano a Mano has built 118 medical clinics, 40 schools, 1,100-plus kilometers of roads, 153 atajados (small water reservoirs) and three large water reservoirs, according to Executive Director Daniel Narr. Their two emergency rescue planes have assisted more than 650 patients. The organization’s current project is expanding a large-scale reservoir to hold 2.5 million cubic meters of water.

Mano a Mano was one of three finalists for the Opus Foundation's $1 million prize, which was awarded this year to the St. Luke Foundation of Haiti.

"We tend to work in the background; we don't look for limelight," Segundo Velasquez told the Star Tribune. "We are grateful for the opportunity to tell so many people about our work, and to help even more people in Bolivia."

The Star Tribune has more on the process that led to Mano a Mano's being chosen as a finalist:

"Last summer I received a phone call from a man saying he represented an anonymous donor," explained Velasquez. "He said they wanted to make a site visit [to Bolivia]. He said 'This is not a prank.'"

And so, Velasquez escorted a half-dozen mystery guests to the rural villages where Mano a Mano has schools, medical clinics, ponds for farmer irrigation and more. He knew some of the people on tour were from St. Catherine University of St. Paul, including a couple students and staff. But he didn't have a clue about the others until the last day of the trip, when they revealed they were from the Opus Prize Foundation.

...

Katherine Montenegro was one of two students who visited Bolivia. A nursing student from Ecuador, she had never seen anything like Mano a Mano, much less been asked to evaluate an organization for a possible $1 million prize. The experience wowed her. She hopes to someday bring what she learned in Bolivia to her own country. In the meantime, she hopes to volunteer for Mano a Mano.

"They don't just build a clinic, but they build housing for a doctor or nurse," said Montenegro. "They do the same for schools. And the people in the community are involved in everything. They helped build the schools, the water reservoirs ..."

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