UW News

May 31, 2007

Rotary-UW ‘Saving Lives’ Partnership: Creative collaboration to address rural poverty

The UW has entered into a partnership with Rotary International to fast-track dissemination of interventions and technologies to improve quality of life to those in greatest need throughout the world. The Rotary-UW Partnership will address rural poverty — and all the health and economic issues associated with it — by developing an integrative, community-based approach to improving water and sanitation conditions, health education, school and community-based nutrition, disease surveillance and prevention activities, and program evaluation.

Long known for its worldwide efforts to eradicate polio through fund-raising and vaccine dissemination, Rotary has joined forces with the UW on a project called “Sanitation and Water Projects in Ethiopia: Quality, Action, Education and Research.”

In 2004, Rotarians Ezra Teshome, Dave Spicer and Dave Weaver launched an effort to bring clean water to rural areas of Ethiopia. Through their work, more than a half million dollars has been raised for the project that will bring clean water to 37 villages benefiting over 200,000 individuals.

“We are the experts at raising money and mobilizing volunteers for these projects,” said Ezra Teshome. “Our UW faculty partners will work with us as we bring safe water and sanitation to so many communities in rural Ethiopia. Our partners will work to help assure that these technologies are fully integrated into the public health and education frameworks of the communities.”

More than 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water; 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation.

“Lack of clean water and basic sanitation results in two million deaths per year,” said Michelle Williams, a professor in Public Health and Community Medicine and the director of the Multidisciplinary International Research Training (MIRT) Program at the UW. “Each day, 6,000 children die from diseases associated with unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Our goal is to work alongside Rotary as they bring the gift of water to the community to ensure that people understand basic sanitation principles.”

The Rotary-UW Partnership will send teams of Rotarians and faculty to Ethiopia. “For example, Rotary will be constructing latrines for a community,” said Williams. “We will send faculty versed in health education, social and behavioral sciences to help with changing century-old behaviors, attitudes and practices. We will send engineers to ensure that the latrines are constructed in a way to mitigate contamination of clean water.”

In the past, said Teshome, Rotary always looked to the UW for assistance, but this formal arrangement streamlines efforts. “There are so many resources at the UW that will help our efforts,” he said.

The Rotary-UW Partnership will also provide UW students opportunities to participate in meaningful high quality academic and practical learning experiences while solving real global health problems. Plans are also underway to identify other countries that may benefit from the Rotary-UW Partnership.