By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO; GULU, UGANDA In remote villages across the world, clean drinking water can make the difference between life or death.
With this understanding, the Cokato-Dassel Rotary Club and Dassel-Cokato Middle School are teaming up to make an even greater financial impact in bringing clean, safe drinking water to the people of central Africa.
This year, the Cokato-Dassel Rotary Club is spearheading the Area 8 international project as part of a district-wide initiative called Safe Water Plus-Africa, according to Kelly Babekuhl, Cokato-Dassel Rotarian. Area 8 clubs includes Cokato-Dassel, Hutchinson, Litchfield, Gaylord, and Glencoe.
According to Babekuhl, the focus is to bring safe drinking water to remote villages in Uganda to help those who have been devastated by a 20-year civil war, which ended in 2006.
Safe Water Plus originally started in Haiti three years ago and has since moved to Africa. The focus is currently in Uganda in an effort to return the 1 million residents still housed in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, where they sought refuge during the war, explained Tim Murphy, the district’s international project director and a member of the Rotary Club of Edina.
The main reason these residents remain in the camps is because of the access to clean drinking water, since many of the wells within villages were sabotaged by the Lords Resistance Army.
‘The key is to get them back to their villages so they can start providing for themselves and work off the land,” Murphy said, adding accessible safe drinking water is the first step.
The Safe Water Plus project includes four components including well building, repairing damaged wells from the war, public restrooms or latrines, and rainwater collection and storage.
Locally, the goal is for each Rotary Club to contribute $2,000, which will then be matched at the district level (62 clubs in Minnesota), at the international level (33,000 clubs worldwide), and through World Vision (a Christian-based fund-raising organization). With the matching funds, the clubs will have contributed $93,000 of the $1 million project goal.
Each year, eighth graders learn the importance of clean drinking water through an interdisciplinary unit called From the Ground Up.
“We talk about how fortunate we are in Minnesota to have an abundance of fresh water, and we stress to students that’s not the case in other parts of the world,” said Sue Sparboe, eighth grade science teacher at DC.
Last year, the unit went beyond eighth grade and had the whole middle school involved in raising $1,100 for the digging of a well, improved restrooms, and sanitary hand-washing stations at a school in Uganda through One For Water.
The idea was that each student would donate $1, instead of spending it on such things as a candy bar or bag of chips. They also asked their family and friends to contribute by doing the same.
When Babekuhl was informed of the school’s efforts and how it related to the Rotary’s water project, she found it to be a perfect opportunity to combine forces and make an even greater impact.
In addition to the $93,000, Rotary will assist the middle school by matching their One For Water fundraising efforts nine-fold.
For every dollar raised, Rotary and World Vision will contribute $9.30 toward the project.
Therefore, if the goal of raising $2,000 is reached, the total after matching funds will be $18,600.
“This is a great way for the kids to learn that the world is so much bigger than they know, and that they can span the globe and make that kind of impact is amazing,” Babekuhl said.
For Sparboe, having the opportunity to work with the local Rotary Club on such a project was “too good to pass up.”
Seeing the impact
Although the significant matching was definitely a bonus for working with Rotary, it was also an opportunity to have the connection with the people in Uganda who are benefiting from the school’s efforts, Sparboe explained.
Since Rotary is an international organization, it is working with the Rotary Club of Gulu in northern Uganda for this particular Safe Water Plus project.
Through this partnership, the students will have the opportunity to see how their money is benefiting children their own age in Uganda, with the goal of connecting with a school in the Gulu area.
“This is a great way to apply what they’ve learned and to make learning relevant,” Sparboe said.
Murphy, who was involved in the project launch in Uganda last March, spoke with 800 Dassel-Cokato Middle School students Oct. 20 about this project and the need for clean drinking water in Africa. Thus far, the $1 million project has provided 44 wells, also known as boar holes. Each boar hole services a community of up to 3,000 people for an indefinite period of time, Murphy said.
One For Water kicks off
The middle school One For Water campaign is currently underway.
Like last year’s campaign, students will have the opportunity to sacrifice something they can live without, like a bottle of pop, and instead, donate $1. They will ask their family and friends to do the same.
The campaign will go through Friday, Nov. 19 and anyone wanting to contribute to the One For Water campaign can bring donations to the middle school office.
For questions, contact Jacob Stang, eighth grade geography teacher, or Sparboe at (320) 286-4100, ext. 1600.