LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Water is synonymous with life, and although we take it for granted, people who live in remote areas of the world face great health risks and even death from unclean water.
The Rotarians of Lakewood Ranch have long understood this and, along with other Rotary Club members across the country, have helped raise more than $400,000 to bring clean water and sanitization to the remote areas of Peru. On Wednesday, they were personally thanked for their efforts and work by a visit from a Rotarian counterpart from Peru who is now part of an international organization committed to providing safe water to developing countries. The group warmly welcomed Juan Simon, a past Rotary district governor from Peru, to its monthly meeting at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.
A group of Lakewood Ranch Rotarians visited rural Peru in 2012, traveling to remote areas of the Amazon east of the Andes mountains and on the west coast where their only source of water was a creek. The villagers had never seen soap or paper towels before.
Together with Simon, the Lakewood Ranch group helped bring much-needed filtration equipment to the villages to purify their water. They personally taught children and adults basic hygiene and safe sanitation, and they inspired local Peruvian Rotarians to value volunteer work.
"We have a stronger district and better Rotarians because of you. Thanks to your help, our water is safe now and the quality is much improved. I came here because I wanted to personally thank you," said Simon, who exchanged gavels, a symbolic gesture among district leaders, with Ron Myers, chairman of the Water and Sanitation Committee for the Lakewood Ranch Rotarians and part of the local delegation to Peru.
"Water and sanitation is a basic need of over a billion people in the world, and it's a major area of focus for Rotary International," Myers said. "Statistically, 5,000 children in the world die every day from water-borne diseases, so this is an important issue."
Rotarian Judy Berlow, a former Spanish teacher who put her knowledge of the language to good use as a translator on the trip, said it was an invaluable experience.
"Everywhere we went, we felt so good because the people appreciated everything we did, and we inspired their Rotary groups to lead the charge for pure water as well," she said.
Simon is Peru's director for the global organization Water Missions International. He has committed himself to making sure rural areas of Peru maintain water quality by training technicians and operators in the field and social workers about the benefits of safe water, proper health and hygiene.
"This needs to be a sustainable project. These communities have to change their whole cultural way of thinking. Water is not free, and in order to have safe water, you need an operation that costs and you need to maintain it."
The Lakewood Ranch Rotarians, led by Myers, plan to visit Peru for a week in September to continue the mission of bringing safe water and sanitization to the country's remote villages.
Kathryn Moschella, Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.