In the early morning sunlight they arrive.
As couples. As families. As groups.
They arrive at the watering hole – in this case a portable metal water trough usually found on area farms and ranches.
They fill their buckets and containers with water from the trough and retrace their path to their starting point. At the end of the walk, they return home to indoor plumbing, bottled water and lawn irrigation systems.
That is a luxury the beneficiaries of the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club’s annual Walk For Water don’t have.
The residents in Monte Castillo, Peru – all 12,000 of them – on the northern edge of the Sechura desert get their water from a nearby irrigation canal.
“Of course, it is an open irrigation canal, so it is polluted: Carries animal waste, farm runoff and bacteria,” said Ron Myers, the chair of the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club’s clean water committee.
All proceeds from this year’s Walk For Water, which begins at 8:30 a.m. April 21 at Nathan Benderson Park, will go toward an $81,000 project to bring clean drinking water to the town, set up a distribution system and establish a “utility company” owned and operated by the community to ensure the project’s long-term self-sufficiency.
“We use the walk to raise awareness about the issue and then reach out to people and say ‘Can you help us do this,’ ” Myers said. “So people can come to our website and make a donation and don’t have to necessarily come walk. And many people who do walk make a donation in addition to the registration donation.”
The donations raised as a result of the walk will be matched by Rotary International. The club has obtained funds and pledges from local residents, Rotarians, and other Rotary Clubs as far away as Wisconsin and Montreal, Canada.
The various revenue sources will be combined with the Walk for Water donations to fund the project. Myers and Freeman said it takes about three to six months to raise all of the money needed to fully fund one of the club’s water/sanitation projects – even one as large as Monte Castillo, which is one of the largest projects the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club has sponsored.
The club has used this formula for 20 previous projects in Peru, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama dating to 2007, when the Lakewood Ranch club adopted clean water as one of its international service focal points.
“(Clean water projects) are our area,” Walk For Water co-chairperson John Freeman said of the Lakewood Ranch club’s commitment to and success with these projects. “We do it well. We are leaders in that area.”
Each year’s walk supports a different international project. Last year, the walk drew slightly fewer than 100 people and raised $12,000 when it was held at Harvest United Methodist Church and the surrounding streets in Lakewood Ranch. This year, organizers hope to double the turnout and raise $20,000 with a venue change.
“Benderson is a coup for us because it is a premier location,” Freeman said. “We are a small event, but we aim to grow. (The Walk For Water) event in Charleston just drew 4,000 (on March 17). We would love to get that someday, but this is our second year and their 13th. We are hoping this (site change) will help us grow this event.”
Unlike real-life walks for water, which research shows average 3-plus miles for people in rural communities, the route for Walk For Water participants is about a mile. Participants will walk from a starting point to the water source and then can carry as much or as little water as they want back to the start. Walk participants can bring their own buckets, but the Rotary Club will have buckets available.
Those wishing to register or donate can do so online, www.lakewoodranch-rotary.com, by phone, 941-870-0002, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Walk For Water
What: Approximately 1-mile walk/water carry
When: 8:30 a.m. April 21
Where: Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota
Cost: $15 (children under 8 free) online donation suggested
Parking: free for walk participants in designated area only; otherwise $5.