Water for Life — Local Rotarians team with Habitat for Humanity International

Sue Guinn Legg • Jun 16, 2018 at 11:45 PM

Holston Habitat for Humanity and Johnson City’s Noon Rotary Club are lining up resources for an October cistern-building excursion to Brazil.

Their “Water for Life” project in a rural farming region of Northeastern Brazil will be one of the first in a new collaboration between Rotary International and the International Habitat for Humanity organization.

Local Rotarians will be building large water-storage cisterns for families who during the region’s six-month dry season must either abandon their farms or spend their days walking hours to carry home just enough water to sustain them.

They will follow a Habitat construction model with help from Habitat teams already in place in the region and so far have enough funds to build cisterns for three family farms near Caruaru in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, at a cost of about $1,500 each.

Wendy McIlquham, manger of the Habitat Restore in Johnson City and a member of the Noon Rotary Club, is coordinating the trip, which will break new ground for the collaboration launched last year through a joint memorandum of understanding entered into by the two service organizations.

“This project aims to improve the quality of life of families in Northeastern Brazil who live in poverty on small farms and only have access to water for half of each year,” McIlquham said.

“In the dry months, which are also extremely hot, they either have to walk for up to two hours to fetch water for their homes and farms or they have no access to water at all, except what they have saved in rain barrels.

“Families living in this region work mainly in agriculture, making far less than minimum wage every month. Their situation gets worse with the arrival of summer, when due to the lack of rain, farm work diminishes, and consequently, local agriculture jobs dry up as well. And many families have to abandon their homes for the dry season.

“The population needs infrastructure in every way, but especially that related to access to safe, usable water. By building cisterns for high-volume water catchment and clean storage, families are provided with year-round access to safe, usable water.

In addition to funding and physically assisting in the cistern construction, McIlquham said the local group will also spend time with a family in the region that has had a cistern for more than 10 years to learn more about the impact of the project and to determine the viability of a larger Rotary and Habitat cistern project.

Given the cistern’s life span of at least 50 years, McIlquham said multiple generations of a single family will be served by the single cisterns, allowing them to stay on their farms and maintain their livelihoods year round with enough water for livestock and a small amount of irrigation.

Health-related instruction for the families and the women in particular on how to safely maintain the cisterns and on the importance of clean water will also be part of their work and will increase their childhood survival rates and improve the general health of the families, she said.

So far, the club has eight local volunteers lined up to make the trip but is hoping to take 12. They will be continuing their fundraising through the summer as well in hopes of being able to build more cisterns and help more families.

McIlquham encouraged those who would like to learn more about the project to call her at the Habitat Restore at 423-378-4760. The store is located off West Mountainview Road at 3201 Kimberly Court.

More information about the project will also be posted soon at the Holston Habitat for Humanity website at holstonhabitat.org and at the Holston Habitat for Humanity page on Facebook.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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