Rotary District 5170 (California, USA) is providing safe drinking water to 800 people in Lamchoke, Thailand, a remote village about 250 miles north of Bangkok, through a Rotary Foundation global grant. The US$72,000 project was completed in August through District Designated Fund allocations, contributions from participating Rotary clubs, and a match from The Rotary Foundation.
It involved three separate Vocational Training Teams (VTTs): two led by California Rotarians to help launch and complete the project and one from the host club of Sawankhaloke North, which visited California to learn how to run a small water system.
Michael Hyman, a member of the Rotary Club of Los Gatos Morning, California, and leader of the vocational training team to Thailand, and Mongkol Pichanaharee, a member of the Rotary Club of Sawankhaloke North, look over the progress of the water system.
According to Roy Russell, District 5170’s vocational training team chair and a member of the Rotary Club of San Jose, the project shows how VTTs foster cultural exchange while allowing Rotarians to use their vocational skills to benefit people in another country.
“I’ve been involved in Group Study Exchange (travel grants for teams from two countries to exchange visits) for the last eight years and have had a lot of experience in Southeast Asia. But I am very, very happy to see a project that has demonstrable results,” Russell says. “There’s nothing equal to turning on a valve and getting water where you didn’t have it before. And there’s still an exchange as the teams visit their counterparts.”
VTT members from California work closely with Thai Rotarians on the water project.
“I am very excited about VTTs,” says Roger Hassler, past governor of District 5170, “because they link the experience and knowledge of Rotarians and non-Rotarians together to do significant programs throughout the world.”
Hassler wanted to do a water project in Asia and recruited Russell, whose wife is Vietnamese, because of Russell’s connections and experience as a water professional. The idea was to drill a well. But when the exploratory team arrived in Thailand looking for an ideal site, they learned a valuable lesson in sustainable projects: always ask the local community what it needs. As it turns out the village had a long history of digging wells that ran dry. “We were getting all negative vibes from the village because they had had experience that drilling wells wasn’t good. And frankly, at that point I was pretty demoralized,” Russell recalls. “But then we were just chatting with the villagers, when suddenly we discovered that there was a treated water pipeline two or three miles away. The whole project changed. We would never have understood that if somebody hadn’t asked a question.”
Members of the training team inspect the pipeline.
The first VTT helped install a pipeline from the existing water main to a water tank built on a hill above the village. The water then flows downhill to the village, where it branches off to individual homes. A water meter at each house monitors usage, with families paying a small monthly fee to maintain the system.
A four-person team from Thailand led by a Rotarian from the host club travelled to California in June to train in pipeline construction and sanitization and small water system management. They also accompanied an inspector for several days, learning how similar water systems in the United States work.
The water tower nearing completion.
Another team from California visited Lamchoke in early August to finish the project, but two breaks in the existing main prevented them from completing their work. The breaks were repaired, and the Thai team finished the project a few weeks later.
“For the first time, they will have a safe and reliable water supply,” Russell says. “In the past, in the dry season, they’ve even had to truck in water. Now they can turn on a tap, use the water for drinking and cooking purposes, and live a much more comfortable and healthy life.”
An overjoyed villager turns on the tap for the first time, much to the delight of Rotarians from both countries.
Children enjoy brushing their teeth with fresh clean water.
A happy moment for all concerned, when Rotarians make a formal presentation of the water project to the residents of Lamchoke village.