By Carrie Golden, Rotary Service & Engagement
Earlier this year, Rotary members from Caruaru Sul in Pernambuco, Brazil, and Johnson City, Tennessee, United States, received a global grant for a humanitarian project, “Water for Lives,” which they are undertaking in cooperation with Rotary’s service partner Habitat for Humanity International’s Brazil Office (Habitat Brazil). The project will improve the health and quality of life for families in Brazil’s semiarid, northeastern region by providing year-round access to safe and affordable drinking water.
Pernambuco receives an average of 80 centimeters of water primarily during three months of each year and recently suffered its worst drought in 50 years. Inadequate infrastructure to collect and store water has made it difficult for people in this region to access potable water for cooking and bathing. Other geographic features combine to create the water crisis in this region, including shallow ground that reduces capacity to absorb water and crystalline soil that limits subterranean aquifers. Water scarcity disproportionately impacts low-income families who are less likely to own land with water sources.
The Rotary Club of Caruaru-Sul (District 4500), Johnson City Rotary Club (District 7570), and Habitat Brazil will partner to construct cistern systems to catch, store, and make potable rainwater for 42 residential homes in Riacho das Almas, a municipality with a population of approximately 18,000 people. Additionally, the project will educate families on safe and proper water hygiene, reducing the risks of disease within the community. Families living in rural areas without access to potable water that earn approximately $200 per month or less are eligible to receive a cistern. The families’ homes also must have roofs that are able to support the cistern systems. Fortunately, for more than 10 years, Habitat Brazil has been completing roof upgrades in Pernambuco, so the homes meet this requirement.
Each partner is contributing funds and helping implement the project. In addition to contributing its years of infrastructure investments, Habitat Brazil will train families, hire masons and construction assistants, and manage the construction process. Caruaru-Sul Rotary club members will review families selected to receive cistern systems, the program expenses, and the construction confirmation. Johnson City Rotary club members participated in a March 2019 pilot build, and subsequently supported a community needs assessment and the global grant application. Traveling on a self-funded Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip, two Johnson City Rotary Club members plan to participate in the final project review. The families, too, will be involved in all stages of project implementation—from digging the hole where the cistern will be built and offering support to masons to participating in project evaluation.
Two women with personal ties to Rotary and Habitat for Humanity have been instrumental to this partnership. Wendy McIlquham, a member of the Johnson City Rotary Club and manager of the Johnson City local ReStore, a Habitat for Humanity Affiliate, helped the local club initiate the global grant application after traveling to Brazil to participate in the 2019 build. Flavia Santos Inojosa, a part-time volunteer group guide for Habitat Brazil and the daughter of a past Rotary district governor, has acted as the primary project liaison between the partners.
The impact will be significant and lasting. The cisterns will serve more than 200 people and typically last 50 years. The project will especially improve the lives of women and children who traditionally have walked long distances, across sometimes unsafe routes, to collect water. Rotary and Habitat for Humanity hope this will be the first of collaborations to ensure sustainable water access in communities in northeastern Brazil.
Rotary International’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity International helps clubs and districts empower local communities through access to safe and affordable housing, water and sanitation facilities and hygienic practices, and skills training to improve employment opportunities. Contact your local Habitat to jointly design and implement local service projects.