Clean Water

In remote places throughout the world, people are getting clean water for the first time, thanks to the efforts of Rotarians in a district that spans from Palmetto to Marco Island. The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch hosted a showcase before its regular meeting to show how clean water and sanitation projects are changing lives, reducing suffering for some of the 780 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water.

Rotarians from clubs in Bonita Springs, Estero, Sanibel-Captiva and Fort Myers South joined others from Sarasota and Manatee counties in promoting and learning about projects in Peru, St. Lucia, Guatemala, Haiti, the Philippines and Dominican Republic.

George Lewis, a four year Lakewood Ranch resident and club member, calls himself “The Waterman.” While still living in Oregon in 2006, he became involved in developing water projects. He figures he has helped 2 million people in 37 countries. “He’s always looking for ways to get people’s attention to donate to water,” said Ron Myers, the Lakewood Ranch club’s chairman for Clean Water Projects. The 81-year-old uses a palette knife to create original oil paintings. In exchange for $100 to pay his expenses, he gives them to Rotary clubs to then auction for higher prices to help fund charitable projects with an emphasis on clean water and sanitation. He is prolific. In 22 months, Lewis has painted 264 canvases, generating thousands of dollars. His name is known in Rotary circles. “I knew George before he was famous,” Myers quipped. The men, with Sandra Hemstead, of Bonita Springs, are the go-to people in planning, promoting, funding and executing projects that bring water filters, wells, latrines and hygiene education to the poorest of the poor living in Third World areas. They get help from volunteers such as Dr. Michael and Judy Berlow of Lakewood Ranch, who went up the Amazon in 2012 with Myers and follow club member John Freeman to the Iquitos region of Peru. Judy, a former Spanish teacher, said it was rewarding talking to the people in the village, teaching them the importance of clean water, sanitation and washing your hands. “They had a religious service before they turned the tap on,” said Michael Berlow, a retired radiologist. The children lined up to take the water home and the Rotarians noticed they carried unsanitary containers. Since then, the club supplied clean containers that have covers.

Sustainability for the projects is a key concern. The Rotarians work with the nongovernment organization Water Missions International to coordinate the projects, ensuring monthly visits continue for at least three years, residents are trained in equipment operation and the water is tested for quality. All of the work is not cheap. The Lakewood Ranch club has been involved in 26 projects since 2007. This year, the club committed to giving at least $55,000 toward clean water projects. That’s why Myers said it was important to honor his longtime friend, Carl Baldwin, and his wife, Kay. The couple live in Naples, but so believe in the Lakewood Ranch club’s water projects that they have made annual $10,000 donations since 2007. “They were not Rotarians,” Myers said. “Now they are honorary Rotarians. ”They also received a Major Donor Award on Thursday from District 6960 Governor Cyndi Doragh, of Fort Myers, recognizing their continued philanthropy.

It all comes down to numbers. Myers said 760,000 children die each year from diarrhea, which could be prevented with access to clean water. “That’s 2,000 children a day from water-borne diseases, and that’s too many,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do.”