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11 eco-friendly service projects around the world

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Through the years, Rotary has carried out thousands of projects to protect the environment. In just the last five years, we’ve allocated $18 million to projects that help our planet. Members have even more opportunities to focus on issues that are important to them, now that the environment is one of the causes we focus on.

Here are ways Rotary members are already supporting the environment.

Recycling

Brazil

In Campo Mourão, Brazil, only 5 percent of garbage is recycled, and workers at the local recycling facility lacked the equipment needed to increase productivity. Without a conveyor belt, they had to sort recyclable materials at tables and move them by hand, requiring extra time and effort. And their outdated press was slow and created bales of recyclables that were smaller than standard for the regional market.

Working with a local environmental program that coordinates the recycling cooperative, the Rotary clubs of Campo Mourão and Little Rock, Arkansas, developed a project to increase workers’ capacity to separate and process recyclable materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. The project funded equipment to improve worker safety and efficiency and provided environmental and financial training. Workers sorted an additional 2.63 tons of recyclables per month after the grant project was implemented, and their income increased nearly 25 percent per month.

• This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

People and the planet are inextricably linked. You must care for both.


Member of club of Central Blue Mountains, Australia and former adviser to the Australian minister for the environment

Switzerland

Every year, more than eight million tons of plastic waste, also known as plastic soup, end up in the oceans. Sea birds die from ingesting phone parts, turtles believe plastic bags to be jellyfish, and fish mistake pieces of plastic for plankton. Microplastic enters the human food chain via these fish.

Swiss Rotary members created an association, “Mare Nostrum – End Plastic Soup,” to organize efforts around reducing the amount of plastic waste in the world’s waterways. Several times a year, volunteers remove plastics from rivers and lakes. The group has also developed a campaign to teach businesses how to dispose of plastic waste properly.

“The protection of rivers, lakes, and seas is a major global undertaking, as water is an elementary part of life,” says Marie-Josée Staff-Theis, member of Rotary Club of Arlesheima and co-president of the association.

This story originally appeared in Rotary Suisse.

Solar lights

Kenya

In the remote villages of Ndandini and Kyaithani in eastern Kenya, families live on less than $1 per day, and their homes are not connected to any electrical grid. Most cannot afford kerosene or paraffin to light their homes, which means students cannot see to do their homework in the evenings. The Rotary clubs of Sunshine Coast-Sechelt, British Columbia, and Machakos, Kenya, learned about the problem while working in the area on other projects. In 2014, the Rotarians embarked on a project bring environmentally friendly solar power into homes and schools.

About 1,500 students attending local schools were each provided a solar light under a rent-to-own program; students pay $1 per month, less than the cost of paraffin, for eight months, after which they own the light. The proceeds are used to provide another student with a solar light the following year. Project partner Kenya Connect, noting that the time students spend reading has tripled with the introduction of the solar lights, described the program as “a game changer in our efforts to improve the quality of education for rural schools.”

The project also included the construction of computer labs at two schools and a solar system to provide enough power for the entire setup. More than 200 teachers received training on digital learning and ways to better make use of computers in their teaching.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

Water diversion

India

Residents of two communities near Aurangabad, India, get their water from wells that are recharged annually by monsoon rains. But within a few months after the rains end, the wells run dry, and community members either must go further afield to fetch water or must buy it, which many cannot afford.

The Rotary clubs of Aurangabad East and Chatswood Roseville, Australia, collaborated on an eco-friendly solution using a simple, traditional technology: check dams. These small dams are constructed across gullies to control the rate of stormwater flow. They decrease erosion and increase the amount of water that percolates into the ground. More than 200,000 check dams have been built across India for this purpose; a check dam constructed in India in the second century is one of the world’s oldest water diversion structures still in use.

In Aurangabad, the monsoon rains flow via a channel across a government-owned sports training center toward the sewage-contaminated Kham River. Rotary members funded the construction of two concrete check dams on the campus. The increased percolation of the monsoon rains into the ground is expected to lengthen the period each year during which the area’s 20,000 residents can obtain water from their wells. The dams have an anticipated life span of 75 years and require little maintenance.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

Philippines

In 2020, seven Rotary clubs in the Philippines hosted a webinar, Logging for Good, to discuss the threat of illegal logging, and how it can erode an important natural protection against cyclones and tropical storms.

Conrad Vargas, Executive Director of Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, Inc., spoke about the importance of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range and the threat from illegal logging. He also spoke about the needs of the indigenous people, quarrying, and the hazards that have been caused by dams in the area.

This story originally appeared in the February issue of Rotary Philippines magazine.

Water conservation

Our vision is to start a forest that will be able to be enjoyed by our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Israel

The Rotary clubs of Haifa, Israel, and Coral Springs-Parkland, Florida, are using an environmental education program to unite students of different cultures and beliefs around a topic of mutual importance in the desert region: water conservation. Students from 60 schools participated in the second phase of the project.

Schools selected research topics of interest related to water conservation or technology, such as desalination, rainwater harvesting, or water leaks. The teachers and students were supported in their science projects through equipment and connections with experts such as engineers, biologists, or physicists. More than 150 teachers received training in 26 training events.

Most schools in Israel are separated by culture or religion, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Druze. Through the cross-cultural component of the global grant project, students visited one another’s schools to see the research projects and came together for joint field trips to visit industry facilities or to hear related speakers, giving an opportunity for interaction that they didn’t have otherwise.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

Sustainable farming

Mexico

The Indigenous Tarahumara people live on the remote slopes and canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, growing ancient varieties of corn and beans for sustenance. But the seeds for these plants, handed down through generations, were wiped out by a prolonged drought. In the wake of the resulting widespread hunger, many young people and women with children left their homes to beg on city streets.

The Rotary clubs of Chihuahua Campestre, Mexico, and St. Augustine Sunrise, Florida, worked with a nongovernmental organization called Barefoot Seeds to facilitate community discussions with Tarahumara leaders to come up with solutions. Community leaders said they wanted seed banks and improved water storage to support continued subsistence farming.

As an environmentalist and proud Rotarian, having Rotary’s attention directed to the environment fits exactly within my interests.


Member of club of Ramallah, Palestine and co-founder of the Palestine Green Building Council

The project established seed banks, demonstration farms, and plots to grow additional seeds using sustainable farming methods; reintroduced goats to improve soil fertility; installed rainwater harvesting equipment; and provided training. The project also provided solar-powered chest freezers to further extend the shelf life of stored seeds. At least 500 Tarahumara farmers received seeds, goats, or improved water access the first year.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

India

In response to the devastation of hurricanes Gaja and Thane and the Nivar cyclone, Rotary members in the agricultural region of Tamil Nadu, India, planted over one million square feet of saplings in 100 days. The tree planting projects follow the style established by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, in which trees can grow 10 times faster.

Volunteers dug a hole three feet deep, mixed in manure and soil around a sapling, and then built fencing to protect the young tree. Water is provided through irrigation channels from nearby wells.

“The clubs left no stone unturned in approaching landowners, institutions, campuses, and organizations in fulfilling their mission,” says club member R Balaji Babu.

This story originally appeared on rotarynewsonline.org.

The protection of rivers, lakes, and seas is a major global undertaking, as water is an elementary part of life.

New Zealand

The Rotary clubs of Plimmerton and Porirua, New Zealand, have planted 5,000 species of wetlands trees and plants and plan to plant an additional 5,000 in 2021 to protect a wetland near Plimmerton in hopes of creating a forest of peace and remembrance. It is part of a New Zealand wide project funded by the Billion Trees program celebrating 100 years of Rotary in New Zealand and Australia.

“Our vision is to start a forest that will be able to be enjoyed by our grandchildren’s grandchildren,” says Bill McAulay, president of the Rotary Club of Plimmerton.

This story originally appeared in the February issue of Rotary Down Under magazine.

Eco-stoves

A traditional wood fire for cooking produces the equivalent of 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke in an hour. With around 3 billion people around the world still relying on such fires — many of them inside the home — more people die from indoor air pollution than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS combined, according to the World Health Organization. Additionally, the black carbon emitted from these fires, which absorbs sunlight, is believed to contribute to climate change, while the need for wood drives deforestation.

Members of the Rotary clubs of Guatemala del Este and Los Angeles, California, worked together to help families living in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, on the southeastern shore of Lake Atitlán. The lake, which is the primary source of drinking water for communities including San Lucas Tolimán, is severely contaminated in part because of storm runoff from areas where trees have been cut down for fuel for cooking fires. The project provided 1,000 families with eco-stoves that vent to the outside and decrease the amount of firewood needed by 70 percent. Each stove is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 3 to 4 tons per year.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

Clean energy

Under the environment area of focus, Rotary members and participants tap into funding for initiatives such as:

  • Restoring habitat, planting native vegetation, and removing invasive plant and animal species
  • Protecting endangered species and preventing illegal wildlife trade
  • Addressing overfishing, pollution, and coastal erosion
  • Educating communities in conservation and resource management
  • Supporting eco-friendly agriculture and sustainable fisheries
  • Promoting the use of traditional and Indigenous knowledge in resource management
  • Supporting the transition to energy-efficient transportation
  • Eliminating exposure to environmental toxins
  • Reducing food waste

Armenia

The Berlin Polyclinic has been the main provider of primary health care in Gyumri, Armenia, since it opened in 1993 after a devastating earthquake in the region. But access to health care there remains limited. In conversations with medical center representatives, members of the Rotary Club of Gyumri learned that the clinic’s ability to serve patients is significantly hampered by drastically rising energy costs: In the past decade, the cost of electricity has gone up 200 percent, natural gas 70 percent, and water 50 percent. Those increases, combined with inefficient heating and water heating systems, had forced the clinic to cut its hours of operation during the region’s long winters. As a result, during the heating season — which runs from October to April — the clinic saw an average of 25 to 30 percent fewer patients.

In 2017, Gyumri Rotarians worked with the Rotary Club of North Fresno, California, on a project that both increases patient access and benefits the environment. The installation of photovoltaic panels, a solar hot water system, solar heat pumps, and LED lighting was projected to reduce annual energy costs by 80 percent, allowing the clinic to operate at full capacity year-round — and reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent in the process. During the first winter heating season with the new system, the number of patients served increased by 32 percent.

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.


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Through the years, Rotary has carried out thousands of projects to protect the environment.