Rotary clubs partner with Peace Corps Volunteers to provide water and sanitation

By Julie Stavarski, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and partner on a TRF Global Grant

My journey working with Rotary clubs began while I was serving as a health volunteer with Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Peace Corps Dominican Republic (PCDR) previously placed volunteers to work in the water sector up until 2014, when it was discontinued and only health, youth development, community/economic development, and education volunteers remained. Some of the previous PCDR water volunteers had collaborated with Rotary clubs. Two of these volunteers, Dan Saboe and Tal Wagshal, served in the Dominican Republic from 2012-2014. They both worked on water systems with the help of the Rotary Club of St. Cloud during their time in the Peace Corps. Towards the end of their service, they connected me to the St. Cloud Rotary Club.

It was a difficult transition when PCDR ended the water sector programs because many communities in the Dominican Republic still needed water systems and knew about Peace Corps because of our assistance in water and sanitation. Many communities who had worked with Peace Corps still expected the volunteers to help them build a water system even when their service focused in a different area such as education, youth development, or community/economic development. Furthermore, PCDR moved away from providing big grants and encouraged volunteers to do as much in their communities without applying for funding support. While water wasn’t my primary concentration, there are many links between health and access to safe water. Peace Corps Dominican Republic approved me working on this side water project as long as I completed my commitments to my primary responsibilities within the health sector; my program manager supported me as well, which helped when things got busy at my post.

To provide their communities with water, the Rotary Club Santo Domingo Colonial received a global grant from The Rotary Foundation, in international partnership with the St. Cloud Rotary Club in the U.S., and began the project in 2016. The clubs designed and constructed a well water system to provide safe drinking water to three rural communities with 189 homes and one multi-community school in the province of Monte Plata, the third poorest province in the Dominican Republic. The three communities, all without running water, are located within three kilometers of each other.

The clubs worked in collaboration with former and current Peace Corps water and health volunteers, Dominican Republic tradesmen, contractors, a parent/teacher group and other community leaders and organizers. There was also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer contracted by the Rotary Club of St. Cloud that provided technical support, allowing me to play the role of connecting people, keeping folks informed, and rallying the community but relieved me of having to manage project finances.

The design mapped out the primary and alternative locations most likely suitable for an aquifer with sufficient water for the three communities. Plans called for drilling a well at double the depth of other wells to ensure that there will be a lasting source of clean, safe water for the residents in El Carmen, Mano de Pilon and Mateo Pico. Plans also included locating the well at a relatively low elevation with an electrical transformer within 500 meters to avoid voltage loss over distance.

The project was successful but took much more time to complete than was originally scheduled. Projected to be completed in December of 2016, the project was finished in the beginning of 2018 due to a lot of factors:

  • We had to drill multiple times at different locations because there was not enough water at the original drilling site.
  • Rainy seasons impacted how much work could get done during certain times of the year.
  • Sometimes we had to wait for community members to collect extra money for expenses such as food for the working teams.

I finished my service before the project was completed even though I had extended my stay. The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer that the Rotary Club of St. Cloud had contracted helped complete the project. A challenge with large scale projects for volunteers is that we are only on-site for two years (less when you factor in the time of trainings and getting accustomed to your community) so projects need to be scoped appropriately.

When working in partnership, it’s important for Rotary members and Peace Corps Volunteers to be patient with each other throughout the process. Plan more time than you think is needed for the project, because it will most likely take longer than you think due to difficult conditions, circumstances, and overall differences in cultural practices.

Read the Rotary-Peace Corps partnership fact sheet for collaboration opportunities for clubs and districts.


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