Midday Rotary Invests a Half Million Dollars in Clean Water
By Janice Zimolzak
Midday Rotary San Miguel, in partnership with the Centro de Desarollo Agropecuario (CEDESA), has built more than 1,000 rainwater catchment cisterns in 54 rural villages within the Independence Aquifer of central Mexico. That means that 1,000 families in and around San Miguel will have mineral free water for drinking and cooking for the rest of their lives. Ground water in San Miguel and the surrounding area is laden with naturally occurring levels of arsenic and fluoride, often more than double what the World Health Organization deems safe for consumption. Arsenic and fluoride are not detectable by smell or taste; thousands of people unknowingly ingest toxic water.
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The minerals were detected by Dr. Marcus Adrian Ortega, a geoscientist at UNAM approximately 19 years ago. Since 2008, Midday Rotary has invested USD $500,000 dollars to help alleviate the problem, and they are just getting started. In order to offer clean water to poor rural families who are unable to purchase purified water, Midday Rotary developed a program whereby they provide the funding to build rainwater catchment cisterns. CEDESA provides technical expertise and training, and labor to construct the cisterns is provided by community members. Rainwater is collected from the roof in a 12,000 liter, ferro-cement tank next to a family home. During the summer rainy season, ample water can be collected and stored to serve a family of eight for an entire year. Because they are built above ground, the cisterns are easily accessed for maintenance. A three-day education workshop highlighting the importance of water in daily lives, conservation, and maintenance of the cisterns is an integral part of the program.
There is a need for many more cisterns. Lee Carter, who heads the program for Midday Rotary, estimates that there are at least 10,000 more families in the immediate area whose health and well-being will benefit from replacing groundwater with rainwater. Midday Rotary, working with CEDESA and the impacted communities, intends to continue to work with international Rotary clubs and The Rotary Foundation to provide funding for as long as there is demand for the rainwater collection projects. One hundred more cisterns are scheduled for construction under the current grant, and a new grant to build an additional 200 cisterns is already in process.
This cistern program reaches well beyond every human’s right to clean water for drinking and cooking. Rotary’s thoughtful implementation of this program has proven to be highly effective in organizing communities to analyze their collective problems and seek solutions. Anyone familiar with life in rural villages understands that cooperation rarely exists outside the immediate family. And yet more than 1,000 families have managed to work together building cisterns for each other. Participation is voluntary. One person from each family commits to 250 hours of meetings, training, and labor. Working in teams of six they build one cistern a week for all six families. Personal investment and self-determination are key to the success of the program. In addition to building their own cisterns, community members are encouraged to openly express their needs, desires, and solutions. Communities stay organized by taking advantage of other CEDESA initiatives, backyard gardening, bee keeping, holistic healing with medicinal plants, and the list goes on.
The 1,000th cistern was completed this past February in the village of Vivienda de Abajo. Materials for the last two phases of cisterns in Vivienda were funded by Friends of Vivienda, an adhoc organization dedicated to transformation of this community. It is this type of partnerships—Rotary, CEDESA, Friends of Vivienda, and the community itself—which leads to sustainable community development projects. There are now 38 family cisterns plus three more at the kinder, elementary, and junior high schools in this particular community. The village has 247 inhabitants living in 41 households. Vivienda de Abajo is the first village where now every single person has access to home grown vegetables and clean water for drinking and cooking. With work and persistence, it will be the first of many to achieve this distinction.
The cistern program has been funded by grants from International Rotary Clubs, The Rotary Foundation, the San Miguel Community Foundation, SAPASMA, and The Lotus Foundation as well as other local groups and private donors. The cost of each cistern is $9000 pesos. Donations can be directed to the attention of Lee Carter. Checks should be made out to Club Rotario del Medio Dia AC. For those who need a US tax-deduction, donations are accepted by San Miguel Community Foundation. Midday Rotary meets every Tuesday at 12:30pm at Hotel Mission. Meetings are open to the public. For more information contact Lee Carter at email@example.com.