Wasambo Water Project

A Story of Human Connections

How does a small club in LaSalle, Ontario get involved in a water project in Chilumba, Malawi?  The story begins with a young woman named Laura.  Laura first visited Malawi in 2012 as a volunteer intern for an organization called Determined to Develop (D2D).  Laura became good friends with executive director of D2D, Matt Maroon, an American from Ohio who had gone to Malawi himself in 2006 on a leap year before law school and ended up making Malawi his home.  Laura soon learned that there were many development challenges that Malawi faced.  Malawi is ranked 170 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Development is hindered by a fast-growing population, ongoing natural disasters, food insecurity, high rates of HIV/AIDS and high incidence of malaria.

What impressed Laura so much was the innovative community-driven solutions D2D embraced and modelled. It didn’t come in like many of the other non-profits with external solutions that were often unsolicited and unsustainable. Instead, D2D worked hand in hand with local chiefs, community leaders and other local organizations to drive the change that was wanted and needed.  It was during this year that Laura vowed to make it her mission to tell anyone who would listen about this organization as well as the Warm Heart of Africa, as Malawi is affectionately known.

When Laura returned to pursue her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina, where she studied Public Policy and Medical Anthropology, she kept thinking about Africa and she wanted to find ways to go back there. This propelled her to seek out internships and she landed a job at the Center for Infectious Disease Control at the Catholic University of Mozambique, followed by a treatment facility for HIV positive children in Tanzania and finally the World Health Organization in Geneva. But Malawi was still calling her name. Upon graduating from the University of Northern Carolina in 2015, Laura returned to Malawi to work for UNC’s research site on grants funded by the US National Institute of Health on HIV and cervical cancer prevention. She maintained her relationship with D2D and Matt and was committed to helping them improve the lives of the young people they served. In 2017, Laura came back her native city of Windsor, Ontario where she was invited to speak to the Rotary Club of LaSalle-Centennial about her experiences in Malawi.

All the club members who heard Laura’s presentation that night were impressed - not only by her work but also with the community of Chilumba where D2D was located and operated. A young Rotarian who was particularly touched by the story was Brittney Lawrence, the Club’s Youth Service Director who oversaw the Club’s Interact Club. She immediately invited Laura to share with the Interactors the work that was being done to transform the lives of young people in Malawi. When they heard that almost 50% of the population in Malawi is under the age of 15 and that according to the most recent Malawi demographic and health survey, only 14% of youth in Malawi graduate from secondary school, they wanted to help. The Interactors, who are teenagers themselves, could not accept that poverty threatens young Malawians right to survival, health, nutrition and access to education.

The Interact Club of LaSalle jumped into action. They wanted to do something to help youth in Malawi get a good education. Following the model of D2D, they consulted with people on the ground about what they could do. Initially, it was suggested that the Interact club provide funds to sponsor a student to attend high school. While the Interactors were happy with this idea, they found their contribution would be limited. Only one student would get to go to school with their contribution. In addition, they wanted to particularly help the girls in the community since they often suffered the greater hardships when pursuing an education. So they asked D2D to go back to the table and think of another more sustainable way they could support them. The girls’ empowerment group for D2D put their heads together and came up with the idea of getting chickens. Having chickens would allow girls to sell eggs and use the money to help them with the necessary items needed to go to school. In addition, raising the chickens and selling the eggs would help them develop their entrepreneurial skills which would serve them well. The Interactors loved this idea and gave $700 USD to help buy the chicks needed to start this project.

The connection with this community of Chilumba was growing stronger. The work done by the Interactors encouraged the members of the Rotary Club of LaSalle to do their part to help too. Through enquiries to the community members in Malawi they learned about a needs assessment that stakeholders from the area had conducted in 2012. The final report indicated three major needs: improved health, improved education and access to water.  The Rotary Club of LaSalle-Centennial is fondly known as a ‘water’ club.  The club understands that clean water is the basis for all development in any community so they made it their mission to help get clean, potable safe water to Chilumba so the other needs would also be addressed.

In June of 2019, three Rotary Club of LaSalle members travelled to Malawi to review the needs assessment, understand the scope of the project and talk to local leaders to determine how Rotary could assist.  The Rotarians were greeted by a very warm and hospitable group who presented compelling evidence along with commitment from local leaders and agencies that the investment our Club would make would be sustainable. The local leaders were prepared to invest the labour, the land and commit to being stewards of this project if Rotary provided the funds to get the infrastructure for the water project.

The Rotary members had the evidence they needed to move forward and apply for a Rotary grant to fund this project. In addition to local club agreement, Rotary grants undergo a meticulous review before being approved to determine that funds will be properly used and that the project will be completely sustainable by the local people. The grant is submitted by two clubs for review and approval: an international partner (the Rotary Club of LaSalle-Centennial) and the local Rotary club (the Rotary Club of Mzuzu). Both clubs are responsible for raising funds for the project (which are matched by Rotary International) and meeting all the criteria outlined in the grant process. Everything was in place to embark on this project and the work of completing the comprehensive application process.