When accessing water is as easy as turning on the faucet, it can be difficult for Americans to understand just how vital a healthy, reliable and readily accessible water source is.
Members of the Rotary Club of St. Cloud have witnessed this and other struggles people outside the U.S. face. While the club invests heavily in the St. Cloud area, it also likes to leverage its clout and expertise in international projects.
About once per year, club members head to the Dominican Republic to help solve water problems at the hyper-local level, said Brian Hart, head of the club’s international projects committee.
We discovered that once a community had a secure source of water, the health of the community improves.
“We learned after one of our very first water projects that water is such a basic need in the health of a community,” Hart said. In water-insecure areas, Hart explained, it is usually women and children who are tasked to collect water from natural sources, including rivers and springs.
This has a two-fold impact on children in the remote villages. Carrying the water keeps them out of school, and the water-borne illnesses they bring with the water cause sickness and more days of school missed. “We discovered that once a community had a secure source of water, the health of the community improves,” Hart said.
A reliable, safe water source also improves the agricultural success of a community. Water is necessary for small farming operations, including dairy cooperatives that handle milk produced by local dairy cows, and cheesemakers, who need water in the food manufacturing process.
But that’s not all, Hart said. When Rotarians come to a village, the communities usually need to form a small water committee to make decisions. For many of the small communities, it is the first semi-formal or governmental system they have.
“This starts to plant the seeds for more organized civic engagement,” Hart said. The committees often remain intact after the initial project, so communities can collect money to maintain the water supply.
Dominican Republic Water Projects
St. Cloud Rotary members have volunteered in the Dominican Republic eight times during the last decade, serving more than 6,000 people in 22 communities. The villages ranged from 500 to 1,500 people.
During that time, 69 Rotarians and 13 guests — family and friends of the Rotarians — have worked there. Members have managed to leverage a total of nearly $95,000 for total grants of nearly $880,000.
Early on, members partnered with Peace Corp volunteers who had water technology training to develop plans for each community.
Seed money for the projects comes from individual support and local clubs. In the villages, community members host volunteers in their homes or communal spaces. That money allows the club to submit grants for matching funds to the club’s district and Rotary International. Ideally, more than one club partners on a project. Volunteers pay their own way to and from the country and some accommodations.
As with local philanthropic projects, Rotarians require that they can be part of implementing the project. Rotary clubs in the Dominican Republic host our local Rotarians through their organizations to help connect them to the community.
The Rotary Club of St. Cloud also supports Rotary International projects to end polio by providing vaccinations worldwide and to address child hunger. Rotary clubs also host and go on group study exchanges with other countries, to learn about different cultures, and how they do business and philanthropy.