Spotlight on the Good Works of the RCM Community Trust: Global Grant Water Project in Joyabaj, Guatemala

At the Rotary meeting on February 11th, member Mike Paddock took the club on a tour of how our Rotary club is making a difference in Guatemala. Our club has a history of supporting projects in Guatemala – and in the last several years, has deepened its connections to Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and water projects in the Guatemala highlands. Most recently, Rotary International approved a Global Grant for a water project in Joyobaj, Guatemala that will improve water quality for approximately 25,000 people.


The total monetary cost of the project is $41,000. Through the Orth Fund of the RCM Community Trust, RCM provided $10,000, which was matched by the Kohler Family Foundation. Our Rotary district 6270 provided $4,100.  The North Shore Rotary, and the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club (our local partner) in Guatemala also made contributions, and the Rotary International Global Grant completed the funds needed with $15,000. Joyobaj itself is providing the land and labor, worth $12,000.


The project takes advantage of EWB’s experience and connections in Joyabaj, a municipality in the highlands with a majority of indigenous Maya residents. Most are subsistence farmers with some income from selling excess farm produce; many men and women supplement their family’s income with work on the sugar-cane plantations on Guatemala’s southwest coast from December through May. The average income in the area is $2/day.


The Joyabaj town water system uses mountain streams as the source for a system serving 25,000 residents. The water becomes highly contaminated by runoff during the rainy season, causing acute waterborne disease to rise during the period from May to late September. It is primarily the town’s lower income residents who suffer because they cannot afford to buy bottled water during the rainy season, but the health risk is present in all town homes.


The Global Grant project will fund construction of a roughing filter on the water source pipeline to reduce sediment contamination and allow ordinary treatment to be effective. Water will pass through a bed of sand in a 60’ x 20’ concrete tank, leaving a layer of contaminants and sediment behind. This design uses gravity and avoids the use of mechanical elements that would need replacing, such as a pump.


To continue working properly, the filter will need to be cleaned of the sediment layer daily – a process achieved through use of a “backwash” tank. Use of the backwash tank will reverse the process and push water up through the sand, removing sediment and directing it away for irrigation use.


Construction will begin March 20, 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by September. EWB will oversee construction by the municipal public works staff and will provide training in filter maintenance and trouble-shooting to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.


Rotary International recently revamped the Global Grant process, and this project is one of the first to receive a grant under the new, stricter guidelines. Rotary is indebted to Mike Paddock and to Doug Stahl, both members of the professional chapter of EWB and of Rotary, for their work in shepherding the project through the Global Grant process.


A group of Rotarians traveled to Guatemala in January to visit Joyabaj and other Guatemalan communities with projects supported by Rotary. You can read more about their trip here.