Early each morning, the students of Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in El Tunino, Guatemala, trek down the mountainside on their way to school. They carry the essentials for the day: books, backpacks, and class projects. But one other item they used to haul from home is thankfully absent: a bucket of clean water.
The community of El Tunino is part of Sumpango, a rural region where access to clean running water is limited. Schools in the area offered the basics in education, but students learned quickly that drinking water and working toilets were not part of the curriculum. Today, that lesson is very different.
Using a global grant, the Rotary Club of Guatemala Sur, along with clubs in the United States, have provided washing stations and latrines, as well as kitchen equipment and furniture for this school and eight others in Sumpango.
Jorge Luis Chiquito, principal of Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta, says the availability of clean water and sanitation have had a significant impact on his students. With fewer illnesses caused by polluted water, the students are absent from school less and able to concentrate on their studies more.
“Having a hand-washing station and new latrines has made a huge difference,” he says. “We now have a better way of life for our students and their families, thanks to the help we received from Rotary.”
Clubs in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, all part of District 4250, sponsored 43 global grants, five of which were led by the Guatemala Sur club. Providing clean water was one of the club’s top priorities.
“Everything begins with water,” says Jorge Aufranc, past governor of District 4250 and a member of the Guatemala Sur club. “If there is no water, we cannot have peace. Where there is a lack of water, there is conflict.”
In the rural communities of Guatemala, it’s not uncommon for women and children to walk for 45 minutes, four or five times a day, to get water for the home. The water, which comes from polluted sources, is used for everything, including drinking, cleaning, and cooking.
The Rotary Club of La Antigua, Sacatepéquez, another local club, also took advantage of global grant funding to provide a chlorination system and latrines for the community of Chipastor in San Martin de Jilotepeque. The club partnered with the Rotary Club of Centerville-Farmington in Utah, USA, and Behrhorst Partners for Development, a U.S.-based nongovernmental agency that works with Guatemalan communities to improve health and well-being.
Community involvement was key to the success of both projects. Several of Guatemala Sur’s global grant projects were made possible by the volunteer labor of local workers and input from community leaders during the planning process.
“To have a good project, a sustainable project, you have to involve the community,” Aufranc says. “We have to think of it as their project, not ours. It is a project of the community, not a Rotary project.”