A challenge to clean the world's rivers
In 2009, Salvador Rico stood in the waters of the Russian River in Northern California with other members of the Rotary Club of South Ukiah. They were there for a river cleanup, during which they removed toilets, refrigerators, car parts, and garbage. That event led to an ambitious initiative called Cleaning the Rivers of the World.
After participating in the Russian River cleanup, Rico’s thoughts turned to the Ameca River, which flows past his father’s farm in western Mexico. That was where, he believed, his oldest sister contracted the poliovirus that killed her in the 1960s.
“My older siblings would play in the river,” he says, “and that particular river carried sewage from the city of Tala.”
Rico also thought of another river, the Lerma, which runs near his old elementary school. His teachers would let children play in a pristine tributary that flowed from a canyon but not in the main channel of the Lerma, which carried trash and toxic waste from Guadalajara.
So when Rico’s district governor, Helaine Campbell, asked clubs to carry out a signature water-related project in 2013-14, Rico proposed a cleanup of the Ameca River.
With the help of Vicente Paredes of the Rotary Club of San Pedro de Tlaquepaque, Mexico, who connected people and worked on logistics, the Rotary clubs of Ameca, Mexico, and of Rohnert Park-Cotati and South Ukiah, California, carried out the first Ameca River cleanup day in April 2014. They have since organized more cleanups of the river.
That project eventually expanded to become Cleaning the Rivers of the World, which has challenged Rotary clubs across the globe to clean up a river. The initiative has been adopted by the Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group as part of the Annual World Water Day Challenge, as well as by the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group. Rotarians have organized cleanup projects in Colombia, India, Nigeria, Peru, Turkey, and Venezuela, as well as in other parts of Mexico and the United States.
In 2018, Rico joined his fellow Rotarians in a project on the Lerma River. “As a kid, I always hoped that someday I could go home and do something to turn all the sewage into pristine waters,” he says. “Now I can say, with a clear conscience, that I did everything I could to leave a better world for our kids.”
– Frank Bures
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