Water is Life
Fishers Rotary Club has provided 100 wells serving 100,000 people in Sierra Leone
By Ann Craig-Cinnamon
It was an ambitious goal to build 100 wells in Sierra Leone in three years. It took a little longer, but the Fishers Rotary Club is now celebrating that 100th well. The club has taken on many ambitious goals in its 23 years of existence. Most are of a local nature but the Water is Life initiative is on a grand and international scale.
Tom Branum, a Fishers Rotary member and also the Rotary District Governor for Central Indiana, said it started in 2008 when a member returned from a trip to the west African nation of Sierra Leone and spoke to the membership about the poverty and the lack of fresh drinking water he witnessed while there. Branum said members were touched and wanted to do something to help.
“At the time, the question was can we do something breathtaking? Really step out in front and lead,” Branum said. “It was a gut check but some of the key leaders of the club said they thought we could do it. We did three wells with our own money just to do a proof of concept. And from that point we started doing what’s called Rotary Foundation grants. We have to raise our part of the money.”
In total, $600,000 has been raised to build the wells which cost as much as $8,000 each. Approximately $300,000 has been raised by the Fishers Rotary Club and the rest has come from grants from the International Rotary Foundation.
Branum said that Rotary International gives out $110 million per year in grants and it’s not easy to get a share. “It’s very competitive. They are very strict and sustainability is a key. They wouldn’t approve a grant for us to just go stick a well out there and then go away. It has to be there for years to come. So we know that all 100 of our wells are still functioning.”
Branum added that a group of professionals from other countries visits the sites to validate that a well is actually being built. They also have to confirm that the local community wants it, local Rotarians approve it and the community will be trained to take care of it.
The locations of the wells have spread all around Sierra Leone and each provides fresh water for 1,000 people. “Every year we’ve saved lives,” said Branum. “We know that in the first village we went to, which we’ve been to twice as a club, we saw the well be opened on the first visit. We went back and on the second visit they said they had had no water-borne illnesses in that village since the well was put in.”
Normally, according to Branum, an average of seven to 10 people in a village will die from water-borne illnesses each year and many more become ill.
The Fishers Rotary has committed to build another 100 wells to serve another 100,000 people and Branum said that the future wells will be built near Ebola treatment centers. Sierra Leone is one of the countries hard hit by the Ebola outbreak and, as a result, no one from the Fishers Rotary is planning a visit there this year.
The $300,000 raised by the Fishers Rotary has come from the annual Charity Ball for Water is Life. The third ball is coming up Dec. 6 and will feature live and silent auctions, entertainment and a reception. Auction chair Beth Hodgin says it’s a very Christmas-themed event. “The evening is very festive from a standpoint of a Christmas type of theme. So my wish for every package that goes out the door is that it look like a present,” she said.
The live auction focuses on experiences such as trips, sporting events or a ride on the Brewsline. The club is still accepting auction donations and sponsors.
Fishers Rotarian John Ossim, who is in charge of ticket sales, said 336 tickets are available every year. “We typically sell out. Last year, we sold out three weeks ahead. The year before was pretty close,” said Ossim who estimated that the event raises between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.
Club President Michele Whelchel thinks that the giving nature of the Rotary reflects the Fishers community. “Our community is very philanthropic. We have so many community members that will be attending. They know that they are going to have a good time, but more importantly, they know that they are giving and that they are saving lives because we are providing clean water.”
For Branum, it goes beyond raising money. “For us, it’s about leadership,” he said. “We know that other people might see our model and say, ‘We can do that, too.’ And that’s probably as important as raising the money. Even this water project is about making 100 communities stronger and healthier and leaving good impressions as Americans.”
Third annual Charity Ball for Water is Life
Saturday, Dec. 6
Forum Conference Center, Fishers
Reception and silent auction: 6 to 7 p.m.
Live entertainment, silent and live auction: 7 to 11 p.m.
Tickets: $100 per person
Purchase online at FishersRotaryWaterIsLife.org