Rich Cromwell, a member of the International Services Committee for the Bath Rotary Club, has announced that the Karakin Foundation, a charitable organization supporting philanthropy and volunteerism worldwide, awarded a grant of $80,000 to continue the local Rotary’s work in Cambodia.

“The Rotary Club of Bath’s project, ‘Getting Water Right,’ is in keeping with Rotary International’s support of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects around the globe. Rotary International WASH projects or pilot programs are underway in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Philippines and Cambodia,” says Bath Rotary Club Secretary Caelie Smith.

As with so many charitable organizations trying to accomplish good works for the disadvantaged people of developing countries, getting the funds and materials to the intended target communities can be a challenge. To that end the Rotary Foundation has developed strict guidelines and oversight of all its international projects.

Getting Water Right (GWR) partners with Water for Cambodia (WFC), a Middletown, Rhode Island Rotary Charitable Trust that operates in Cambodia. Bath Rotary’s involvement in Cambodia has its genesis in bicycle journeys through Southeast Asia that Cromwell, a Vietnam Era veteran, began in 2010. It was the plight of the rural villagers in northwestern Cambodia that captured his attention.

On an early trip, quite by accident, he met some young orphans who befriended him and invited him back to their village. “To say I was moved by their living conditions would be an understatement,” says Cromwell. “These children were sleeping five to a bed, and did not have access to clean drinking water, latrines or adequate food.” He returned to Bath Rotary Club with tales, pictures, and a passion that quickly infected the membership. The result is that these children now have a new safe and permanent place to live, the Children’s Improvement Organization (CIO) — a wonderful new orphanage. Also, ground has been broken for a new school right next door. Both were built and are sustained by the Bath Rotary Club and hundreds of private donations from around the world.

Getting Water Right (GWR) is the natural progression of the observations Rich Cromwell made of conditions in these rural Cambodian villages. “These folks are trapped in a cycle of illness and poverty. Simple preventable waterborne illnesses keep them from attending school or obtaining the scarce work available. The cost and distance to clinics make access to treatment virtually nonexistent,” Rich says.

When asked why Cambodia seems to lag behind other developing countries in Southeast Asia, Cromwell says, “It is a sad legacy of the Vietnam war. When the Khmer Rouge orchestrated the devastating civil war (1975-1979), they executed professionals, teachers, and anyone with any leadership ability or education. They wiped out almost an entire generation. One could even be executed for wearing eyeglasses. Nearly two and a half million people were killed in a country of about seven and a half million. If you have ever seen the film “The Killing Fields” you will understand. There was no one left to lead the country or teach the people in the countryside and so they were left behind.” Rich, who is 70, adds. “When I go there, I seldom meet anyone my age.”

When asked if he ever gets discouraged in undertaking such a commitment half a world away, Cromwell admits that trying to implement these projects is daunting at times, but, “Lee Patenaude, who served on the committee with me, was always encouraging and together we kept our focus. Also, the entire membership of our local club contributed in any way they could help.” Today the International Services Committee at Bath Rotary has grown to five members.

Work had already begun on Getting Water Right under a previous grant and with this Karakin Foundation Grant award the next phase will expand. The work in this year’s three target villages of Char, Kandal, and Romeat in the Slaeng Spean Commune (county) of Cambodia will continue, with careful monitoring and intense education in basic hygiene such as hand washing, storing and preparing food, sinking wells, using easy-to-maintain bio-sand water filters, and using and locating latrines.

Latrines, water filters, and wells will be installed by the villagers. They are willing to work to better their lives and are excited by this opportunity. “At this point we are very encouraged and based on follow-up interviews with the villagers and data analysis from the team from WFC, the outcomes are very positive,” says Cromwell, and we have so much more to do.

If you are curious about the Rotary Club of Bath, please join us for lunch to see what we are about. We meet at noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays at JR Maxwell on Front Street, Bath.

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