Water Missions International
When Tim Murphy, past president of the Edina, Minnesota Rotary Club (District 5950), and then District Governor Sandy Schley, were approached by long-time friend and philanthropist Foster Friess to take part in a large-scale water project with Water Missions International, they didn’t know that clubs in their district would be providing sustainable safe water to more than 25,000 people.
In rural Malawi, dirty drinking water contaminated with harmful diseases is the only source of water. Drinking unsafe water means days spent at the local clinic, money spent on medicine instead of food, and school days lost as children walk miles to fetch water that makes them sick. Contaminated water hinders progress, halts education, and perpetuates the poverty cycle.
This reality has been forever changed for 16 communities in Central Malawi. Between 2011 and 2012, all Rotary clubs of District 5950 with the Edina Rotary Club as the international sponsor, Bwaila-Llongwe Rotary Club as host club, and Rotary International through a Rotary Matching Grant carried out a $466,700 project that will now provide safe water for generations.
Such a large-scale project called for customized safe water solutions for 16 communities complete with comprehensive WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) promotion and micro-enterprise training to ensure project sustainability. As the implementing partner, Water Missions International used their engineering expertise and experience working in Malawi to lead the project assessment, design, implementation, and community training.
“Rotary International strives for strong relationships between Rotary partners, both host clubs and international sponsors,” said Murphy. “Water Missions International was a pivotal link to foster that relationship through the course of this project.”
A Rotary Matching Grant helped fund this initiative along with additional funding from Water Missions International. Every dollar given by Rotarians at the club level was multiplied into five dollars for this project. According to Murphy, this exponential giving provided great incentive for Rotarians to give to the Rotary Foundation in general and to this project, as they realized a great return on their investment.
“Our district already had a strong focus in Africa, but we had not yet worked in Malawi. This project presented the large-scale impact we wanted to achieve,” said Murphy. “The Friess family had visited Malawi and seen the desperate need for safe water first-hand. We were confident in the project’s success when learning of Water Missions International’s extensive experience working inside Malawi.”
Water Missions International engineered solutions based on each community’s needs through multiple project phases, including:
- Community assessments, which allowed engineers to identify the most appropriate and effective water system for each individual community.
- Community mobilization through the installation of Safe Water Committees, which ensured that each of the projects would be properly maintained, operated, fiscally sound and cared for throughout the future.
- Project installation, which featured state-of-the-art solar-powered water treatment equipment, pumps, chlorination, water storage and distribution piping systems to tap locations strategically placed throughout each community.
- Community development, which included a sound sustainability plan and micro-enterprise system, so that each village can take ownership of, operate and self-sustain their system indefinitely. Additionally, influential community members were trained in WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) promotion and tasked with teaching it throughout their community.
The entire project was completed over the course of two years, and since its start these communities have seen true transformation take place.
Before our project, the community of Chisanja had only one water source. Women and children collected water while livestock used the well as a watering hole, furthering contamination. If you asked community members what life is like now, they would tell you safe water has transformed Chisanja. Attendance has increased at the local primary school as students no longer miss due to water-related illnesses or walking long distances to fetch water. “It’s such a welcomed development in the village,” one woman explained. “We cherish the water system as if it was our baby.” Notably, this project was also honored with the national Energy Globe Award for Malawi for innovation in sustainability.
Another of the projects was so successful that the Bwaila Rotary Club of Lilongwe produced a documentary and won an award for best project in District 9120, which includes Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The club then had the opportunity to present their project to their Zone (20A) conference which includes every district in Africa. To view the documentary, click here.
Reflecting on the project, Murphy stated, “Beyond the goal of humanitarian aid, Water Missions International played a significant role of fostering good will between Rotary clubs across the world from one another. This was undoubtedly due to their experience working on the ground in Malawi – and was integral to the success of this enormous project.”
Together the clubs of District 5950 in Minnesota, Bwaila-Llongwe Rotary Club and Water Missions International transformed the lives of more than 25,000 people in Malawi through multiple Rotary International objectives. No longer will people in these communities struggle daily because of unsafe drinking water, but now can embrace a future of possibility secured by safe water. Thanks to Rotary connections from around the world, these communities have access to one of the most basic human rights championed by Rotary International: sustainable access to clean, safe water.