By Dean Rohrs, Rotary Foundation Trustee and past RI vice president
A few years back, I was taking part in a polio immunization field trip in northern Nigeria, vaccinating children against the disease. After a dusty trip on non-existent roads right into the northern Nigeria countryside, I was dropped off under a tree with a Rotaractor translator, one other Rotary member, and the local polio immunization team. This is an area frequented by Boko Haram and although I grew up in Africa, and am adventurous, I wasn’t sure that I would ever be found again.
The whole morning, women and children came to us for their polio vaccinations – winding their way to our tree through the fields. But by the early afternoon when the women start preparing the evening meal, there were no further children to immunize. I then took the opportunity to wander through the groups of compounds looking for children to immunize. While doing so, I came across a simple well with a rope and bucket and little girls – aged 10 to 12 years – collecting water, filing containers, and then disappearing into the bush with their water.
I asked the head of the village where they were going, and he told me that there were two other settlements in the area – one 2 kilometers away and the other more than 3 kilometers away. These settlements had no water. These little girls walked twice a day to fetch water for their families and thus never attended school.
When I got back to the tree and back to the team, I asked this leader what it costs to dig a simple well like that. That answer changed my life – and the realization of how little it takes to change lives.
When I got back to my hotel that night, I took out my spending money and my travel emergency fund and laid the money out on my bed. I had enough money – not only for one well – but to dig two wells and to rehabilitate the well that I had seen that day.
Leaving those funds in the hands of the local Rotaractors – 10 months later I had photos of the “Canadian wells” in those two new settlements and the cover and new surround of the original well.
Every time I look at these photos, I remember how little it took to make a difference. I remember the sight of those little girls with their small dusty bare feet, their buckets and containers on their heads, and their strong little backs as they not only faced with courage and stoicism their walk home through this dangerous bush, but also the life they lead and will lead.
Just a brief moment and a few dollars from my life – but what did it mean to those girls? A safe environment of not walking through dangerous territory. A chance to go to school and better themselves. A community that could now focus on living instead of always stretching for the daily water.
We all have these moments in our Rotary journey. But what we do with them is really what counts.
Editors Note: Dean Rohrs has been a member of Rotary since 1989 and has served RI as vice president, director, Rotary coordinator, regional Rotary Foundation coordinator, district governor and now Rotary Foundation Trustee. She earned the Service Above Self award in 2010-11 and served on the review committee in recent years. If you know someone who has demonstrated exemplary service, encourage their governor to nominate them for the Service Above Self award – one of Rotary International’s highest distinctions in service – by completing the online nomination form between 1-31 October.