Rotarians help village obtain safe water

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Carol Sorgen

For most of us in the U.S., safe drinking water is something we take for granted. Throughout the rest of the world, however, that’s not always possible.

For the past year and a half, the Rotary Club of Glen Burnie has helped provide a system to produce safe drinking water for the small village of San Rafael, located in a mountainous area of El Salvador.

The group has been able to provide the 250 homes in the village with drinking water through the construction of a pumping station that can filter the area’s contaminated well water, as well as store and pipe clean water into the homes.

The entire project cost $305,000, and the Glen Burnie chapter raised $35,000 of that total on its own. The rest of the funding came from Rotary International, which is committed to providing potable water to needy areas throughout the world. It works in partnership with the George Washington University School of Public Health, Engineers Without Borders, and other international organizations.

Improving lives

According to Pat Kasuda, a member of the Glen Burnie Rotary Club, the project will make a big difference in San Rafael, where about 80 percent of the residents must rely on a water supply from hand-dug wells that are often contaminated with bacteria and farm run-off.

Hauling water to the homes used to take families up to six hours a day, leaving children little time to go to school, and costing the families much of their hard-earned income for medical treatment to combat the illnesses caused by contaminated water.

In early October, Kasuda, accompanied by two other Rotarians and three engineers, traveled to El Salvador to see how the project was progressing. The group stayed for five days, sleeping in a cinder-block room without windows, on army cots surrounded by mosquito netting, and using latrine facilities.

“It was very primitive,” said Kasuda, 67, a retired healthcare administrator. “Quite different from home,” which for Kasuda is the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

In addition to making sure that the pumping station — constructed primarily by El Salvadoran residents themselves —was working properly, Kasuda and her fellow volunteers visited local villagers and met with newly elected officials of the water authority.

They also brought gifts to village students, including bracelets that read “Protect our water,” to encourage the youngsters to safeguard their environment.

Connecting with residents

“Part of the purpose of the project is not just to provide safe water, but to get to know the residents,” said Kasuda. She explained that the goal of Rotarians is peace around the world through understanding the cultures of others. “We’re all friends, just in different parts of the world,” Kasuda said.

This is not the first overseas trip Kasuda has taken on behalf of the Rotary Club. Three years ago she traveled to India to help institute a women’s healthcare initiative.

Though the water system is up and running, Kasuda and the 31 other Glen Burnie Rotarians plan to stay connected to the village, working with the Rotary Club of El Salvador to begin healthcare outreach efforts.

The Glen Burnie Rotary Club is one of 67 Rotary organizations in Central Maryland. Rotary International was founded in 1905, and there are currently close to 34,000 clubs and more than 1 million members worldwide. Their mottos are “Service above self,” and “They profit most who serve best.”

For information on membership, visit www.rotary.org.