As Rotary Pacific Water for Life Foundation celebrates its 9th birthday, we reflect on the successes and challenges that have shaped the foundation into what it is today.
Founded on 11th of October, 2007 by three members of the Rotary Suva East club, the foundation aimed to provide direct assistance to rural communities in need of safe drinking water supply. Warwick Pleass, Aslam Khan and Bruce Sutton were alarmed by the plight of people living without access to water, and envisioned a better future for rural communities in Fiji. They secured funding from four corporate sponsors, Vodafone ATH Foundation, Fiji Water Foundation, Westpac Banking Corporation, and Golden Manufacturers, who donated the initial funds to start the foundation. Each corporation contributed $150k each year for the initial three years of operation, pledging a total of $1.8 million.
With these funds, Rotary Pacific Water assisted over 200 rural communities through small scale projects. The first three years of rural Water for Life projects addressed water accessibility issues through the provision of rainwater harvesting systems, tanks, piping, catchment upgrades, and sub-contracted borehole drilling. Since then, the foundation has worked passionately alongside rural communities to mobilise efforts in building sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure.
As climate-driven water scarcity affects rural areas, requests for assistance have become increasingly complex. Issues of source unreliability and poor water quality are exacerbated by the often poor state of existing water infrastructure. High incidences of systems failure, through major breakdowns or excessive leakage, occur because school and community groups often lack the capacity, technical support and knowledge to operate or maintain their water supply systems. Too often good intentions can be exploited when assistance is duplicated in some communities and the extent of access to services is limited in others areas. Overcoming these challenges has made us more aware of the realities and actions that we must take to ensure our work is sustainable.
Sustainable water and sanitation projects are not simple or easy. They require rigorous monitoring, evaluation and research. In 2013, the organisation recruited new staff and adopted standards of operation. A water resource engineer volunteer joined the foundation to build the capacity of our projects team and increase the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of our built water supply and sanitation systems. In addition, coordination across all rural development activities was strengthened through strategic partnerships with government actors in the WASH sector.
Our biggest challenge remains to ensure our Water for Life projects are sustainable. We have learned the value of community involvement in every step of project implementation from planning, to building, to maintenance. Success of rural development projects is always highest where there is strong community empowerment to take ownership and responsibility of water supply needs. Improved health, dignity, and transformation don’t come from simply providing the water infrastructure, but from communities’ hard work and commitment to create lasting change. Awareness and skills training workshops are now incorporated into Water for Life projects to strengthen the capacity and governance of community water committees.
In nine years, the foundation has delivered positive impacts to more than 265 villages, settlements and schools in Fiji. We have transformed more than 70,000 lives with access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The increasing number of applications we receive from rural communities and provincial offices seeking our assistance is testament to the degree of public trust we have gained since 2007.
Our work would not be possible without our generous supporters. On behalf of all the communities we assist, we would like to extend a very warm thank you to Pleass Global Limited, VaiWai, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade via Rotary New Zealand Community Services Limited, Australian Youth Trust, Fiji Development Programme and Embassy of Japan in Fiji, as well as those who are not listed but who give so generously to make a difference to the lives of others.