Water for all: Fishers Rotarians drill for life in Sierra Leone


Correction: In the print edition of the Current in Fishers, the Water is Life program website should have read as www.waterislife.tv. The waterislife.com address is unaffiliated with the Fishers Rotary club.

Clean water is still new technology for many in Sierra Leone.By Jordan Fischer
Current in Fishers

The face of Sierra Leone is one of resilience, even amidst some of the world’s most impoverished conditions.

After a decade-long civil war, the people of Sierra Leone are struggling to rebuild their country. Many lack even basic food supplies and medical care. And, in many communities, clean drinking water is simply not available, leading to rampant water-borne illness, and in some cases, death – 90 percent of which occur in children under the age of 5.

The Fishers Rotary Club, along with support from clubs in Westfield, Carmel and Noblesville, and a matching grant from Rotary International, launched the Water is Life program in 2009 to provide Sierra Leoneans with clean drinking water through the purchase and installation of 100 fresh-water wells. Each well costs between $4,200 to $5,000 for Rotary’s partner, World Hope International, to install.

Since 2009, the Fishers Rotary club has raised enough funding to purchase 88 wells; more than $370,000. On March 19, five-time Grammy Award winning artist Sandi Patty will join the club for a celebration performance as their near their 100-well goal. Rotary hopes Fishers residents will join them in raising the remaining $60,000 required to install the final 12 wells.

Real people, real poverty

The West African nation of Sierra Leone ranks 179th out of 182 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. The nominal GDP of Sierra Leone, the standard measurement for the value of goods and services produced, is around $311 per capita. To put that into perspective, the average weekly wage for a full-time worker in the U.S. in 2008 was $720.

Many of the nation’s problems stem from an 11-year civil war fought throughout the 1990s between the Momoh government and the Liberian-backed Revolutionary United Front. The rebel forces were funded in large part through the illicit trade of diamonds, colloquially nicknamed “blood diamonds” for their frequent part in violent conflicts in African nations.

Though the civil war officially ended in 2002, effects of the conflict remain. The average life expectancy for a Sierra Leonean is only 41 years – the sixth shortest life expectancy in the world. The average life expectancy for a U.S. citizen is 79 years. And, more than 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live without access to clean water.

Outside of home, and beyond

“Rotary International had been encouraging clubs to reach outside their own communities, and help those in need abroad,” said Fishers club member Bill Jerrow. “One of our Rotarians had been invited to visit Sierra Leone. He came back and gave a speech to the club that really moved a lot of people.”

Through the “magic of Rotary,” as Jerrow described it, matching funding grants can often turn $1 donated by a community into $2 or $3.  The club also received support from the Heartland Church in Fishers, which donated a $100,000 water drilling rig to the project.

Fishers Rotarian and Water is Life project chair Tom Branum explained the impact even a single well can have on a community.

“What we have to remember is that clean water is essentially new technology for these folks,” Branum said. “It’s not uncommon for a small village to lose seven to ten people per year to water-born illnesses.”

He also put into perspective how out of reach these wells were for many Sierra Leonean communities.

“In 2009, we went back to visit one of the villages that received our first well in 2008,” Branum said. “They had spent a year raising funds, charging a very small amount of money per family, to raise 4,000 Leones.”

At the time, 4,000 Leones was equivalent to roughly $100 U.S.

“For them to raise four to five thousand dollars to put in a well… that just wouldn’t happen in their lifetime,” Branum said.

Education about fresh water had also been very important to the project.

“One great example is a mother who had gone and gotten five gallons of water from the old source, and five gallons of water from the clean source, and was mixing them together,” Branum said. “We asked her why she was doing it, and she said she wanted the water to last longer. The idea of germs and hygiene training isn’t present over there.”

The Fishers Rotary Club will present the 100th Well Celebration featuring Grammy Award winner Sandi Patty on Saturday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the Heartland Church Auditorium in Fishers. General seating tickets are $25, with $100 tickets available for VIP seating and admission to the after party at CMG Worldwide, Inc. Registration is available online at www.waterislife.tv. For more information, call Diane at 317-557-5765.