A project to provide clean water to all of Lebanon’s schools is uniting leaders from many of the country’s diverse religious, cultural, and political divisions.
In 2011, Rotary members in northern Lebanon decided to install new tanks and water filters in a few nearby schools with the help of a Rotary Foundation grant. The idea caught on and a few other clubs followed suit.
Two years later, District 2452 Governor Jamil Mouawad and other district leaders saw the potential of creating one giant water project that could reach every school and involve all 24 of the country’s Rotary clubs. They formed a committee to handle publicity and gather technical knowledge, while each club was asked to provide volunteers, contribute funds, apply for grants, and secure contributions from outside organizations.
“Every student has the right to drink clean water. It goes without saying that clean drinking water leads to less diseases, healthier students, and consequently, better education,” says Mouawad. “The bigger the challenge, the greater its positive impact on humanity.”
While clean water is the main objective, the leaders also saw the effort as a means of helping heal Lebanon’s long history of sectarian strife. A civil war divided the country from 1975 to 1990, leaving an estimated 120,000 people dead. In recent years, Lebanon’s government is a shifting coalition of religions, political parties, and sects.
Lina Shehayeb, president of the Rotary Club of Aley, is a Druze by faith. Shehayeb says working alongside club members who are Catholic, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Muslim to promote the project has deepened her understanding of those with different religious or political views.
“We are building peace and understanding,” she says. “There has never been anything quite like this in our country.”
Even the distribution of club responsibilities is designed to foster peace. Each club is responsible for a certain number of schools, some in their area but some in a totally separate region. The clubs nominate a project coordinator, find qualified suppliers, arrange for sponsors, and allocate contributions from sponsors, district funds, and global grants to finance the installation of filters in the schools.
“For example a club from Jounieh, a Christian resort town north of Beirut, might be assigned schools in the southern mountains near the Israeli border, an area that is considerably poorer and primarily Shia Muslim,” explains Mouawad. “After all, who — no matter what their political or religious views — could argue with providing clean water for children?”
The effort could not have come at a better time. With the crisis in Syria, Lebanon’s population is ballooning with refugees, including many school-age children. By improving the schools these kids attend, Rotary members are laying the groundwork for future peace in the region.
The committee is working in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, World Vision, UNICEF, and the Red Cross. Red Cross volunteers take water samples in each of the schools a few times a year and send those samples to the Lebanese Agricultural Laboratory Institute for testing.
According to the committee’s technical team, it will cost roughly $2,500 a school to install water tanks, filters, and provide ongoing monitoring. About 200 schools have been covered so far. The goal is to reach all 1,535 schools within three years.