Wallingford Rotary imagines sustainable futures

By Lorraine Connelly

A couple of Christmases ago, my daughter, Julia, gifted me a set of gratitude cards as a reminder of the many things I should not take for granted. One of the cards I recently pulled had this saying: “We can turn on the tap water and clean water comes out for almost nothing.”

While this is true for most of us, it’s not so for residents of Gambella, Kenya, some 7,000 miles away, in east Africa. The Horn of Africa is experiencing the longest and most severe drought on record, threatening millions with starvation as relentless drought and high food prices have hampered people’s ability to grow crops, raise livestock, and buy food. The impact of this drought has become a matter of global concern.

Members of the University of Connecticut’s Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB, USA-UConn) are seeking to improve the quality of life for those who are facing such dire conditions. Just like the nonprofit humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, provides emergency aid and sustainable living solutions to the most vulnerable populations around the globe.

One project student-engineers have developed is The Kenya Water Project. Says Jay Cocozza, a junior from Berlin, Conn., and co-lead for the project, “Currently, the community of Gambella has only one water pump located at the center of the village. Our project will greatly expand the town’s water-producing capabilities beyond adequate drinking water to support their agricultural needs. The installation of a new well and irrigation system will allow the community to reliably produce their own food.”

Jay is cautious about the task at hand, “It is important for us to be able to assess what can realistically be done for the community and what community members can do for themselves. The community should be able to maintain the system past our involvement. Ensuring the longevity of the project has been a rewarding challenge for the team.” EWB’s faculty adviser, Dr. Sung-Yeul Park, adds, “In designing these systems students must consider worse-case scenarios and learn how to help others provide accountability and sustainability for projects that have multi-year solutions.”

The solar-powered hydration system designed by the students will irrigate 1-5 acres of land providing a reliable source of water that is easily accessible. It will also dispense water to cattle with a separate faucet to ensure that there is no cross contamination among the different users. Funding and sponsorships from the Rotary Clubs of Wallingford, Clinton, Essex, and New Haven are supporting the project, as well as fundraising by EWB-USA students, and private donations. More than $11,000 has been raised to date.

Brian Machado, a junior from Scotch Plains, N.J., who with Cocozza is a co-lead for the project, adds, “involvement with such a project can make a big impact on a community that is in need. While sustainability was not one of his original goals when searching for career paths in his industry, he says, “I can now definitely see it becoming one.”

This March, the Rotary Club of Wallingford will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Its founding president, Dr. James D. McGaughey, a Wallingford native, could likely not have imagined that the club’s broad reach would one day embrace a struggling community in Kenya.

Kevin O’Rourke, Wallingford Rotary’s current president, says “throughout its 100-year history, our Wallingford Club has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support local organizations and community projects.” Locally, the Wallingford Rotary chapter has generously supported the community through its annual outreach efforts, participating in Salvation Army Bell Ringing, distributing dictionaries and thesauruses to elementary school students, sponsoring the 8th grade speaking and essay contest, and High School Citizen of the Year Awards. “As we enter our second hundred years, our Wallingford Rotary Club, will continue to evolve to support and serve our community,” said O’Rourke. “It is also rewarding, at this time, to be able to help another community halfway around the world with the basic need for water, something we take for granted here.”

The wheel in the Rotary logo is a symbol of cooperation. We use the everyday expressions “wheels in motion” and “putting our shoulder to the wheel” to indicate the effort needed to complete a project. And throughout the Bible there are numerous references to wells providing “living waters” for the faithful.

Today, through the concerted efforts of organizations such as Engineers Without Borders and Rotary clubs worldwide, there is ample opportunity to exemplify the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self.” In our own communities and beyond, we can be poised to spring into action and to help others “turn on the tap” and live life more abundantly.

Lorraine Connelly is a writer and Wallingford Rotary Club Board member. Members of the community are invited to attend club meetings on Wednesdays at noon at the Wallingford Elks Lodge 148 South Main Street.


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