A Brief History of Rotary Midday Water Projects

In 2008, the young Midday Rotary Club of San Miguel was looking around to find an initiative where they could make a big difference in the lives of San Miguelenses. We found that rural San Miguel was experiencing a crisis of insufficient healthy, potable water. In addition to wells drying up in some areas, other communities were facing health issues related to water contaminated with excess fluoride and arsenic. The problems were not being addressed by any city agency or local nonprofit organizations.

After many interviews with SAPASMA and other local NGOs, we found CEDESA (Centro de Desarrollo Agropecuario AC) had been working on water issues since the 1950s and they also had a 12,000 liter above ground, ferro-cement cistern design that could capture enough rainfall to provide safe cooking and drinking water for a family of six on a year-round basis. Not only did CEDESA have the design, they also had community development skills and technical skills to launch an initiative of families self-constructing their own rainwater harvesting systems.

In 2009, we began in Los Torres community. The project was successful and soon we had people, mostly women, from other communities asking us if we could help them build cisterns as well. It is a three-way commitment: Rotary provides funds and project management; CEDESA helps organize and teach the women about the problem. Finally, the women all pitch in to do the actual construction of a cistern in each family’s home. By building the cistern themselves, they value and care for the cistern with pride.

Within one year, we had so many families asking for support, that we helped them form a farmer’s organization to manage the solicitudes and participation of the eight communities asking for support. The group named themselves COCIRA, Consejo Ciudadano para Agua Rural. Those eight communities quickly grew to 16 over the next two years. Rotary Midday and Cedesa now work with five rural campesino organizations to provide rainwater harvesting systems throughout the region.

We are proud to report that we have now built more than 1,450 cisterns in more than 60 communities throughout the aquifer region. We are currently in the process of building 80 more. We have invested more than USD$750,000 capturing nearly 15 million liters of pure, clean, healthy rainwater each year. Our work in the area of Water and Sanitation now includes the construction of dry composting toilets to address problem of open defecation in many communities. We have recently finished a pilot project of 50 ecologically friendly and waterless toilets. In June 2021 we were awarded a new grant of USD$212,000 to continue this work. All of these projects include education and training to boost sustainability.

It is important to understand that although these projects solve very important problems for the beneficiaries, the true lasting value is the human development associated with the process. Our partner in these projects, CEDESA, seeks to empower women campesinos by teaching them skills to improve their lives and the lives of their families. They provide workshops in backyard gardening, animal husbandry, transformation, natural homeopathic remedies and more. Our cistern project encourages these women to join the local campesino organization and work in teams to achieve independence and self-determination without having to rely on government give-away programs. By participating in the organization, they learn to analyze and solve problems working in conjunction with their neighbors. They become leaders in their communities and they narrow the gender disparity issues common in rural San Miguel. Most of all, they have earned the respect and admiration of all of us because they, themselves, are changing their lives in a permanent and significant way.

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