GUSTINE – Gustine Rotary is known as a small club that thinks big.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of a local member who embraces that philosophy, the club has had a hand in improving the quality of life on an impoverished region of the Philippines.
In recognition of those continuing accomplishments, Brent Tanner was recently presented a Rotary Citation for Meritorious Service, which ranks among the organization’s most prestigious honors. He said one Rotarian is nominated each year by clubs within the district, and the award is subject to approval by Rotary International.
Through Tanner’s leadership, some $240,000 has been raised to provide assistance to those living in poverty on the island of Mindanao. Most of that money has been used to install bio-sand water filtration systems in more than 2,400 homes which otherwise lack a sanitary water source.
The club has also been involved in purchasing a van for an orphanage, purchased about 80 composting toilets and dabbled in improvements such as high efficiency stoves and solar panels.
Tanner said those involved decided that the stoves and solar panel were not a good fit for the programs. The toilets were expensive and not particularly well-received in the communities.
So the focus has been on the life-saving water filters – with another project in the works that if successful will deliver another 550 water filters.
“We started out doing 250 water filters. I never thought we would do anything like this,” Tanner told Mattos Newspapers. “I love the idea of helping kids, and just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
The provision of clean drinking water is literally a life-saver, Tanner said.
The Rotarians work with a non-profit which builds the units….which are concrete filled with sand and gravel. “Our filters don’t have anything to replace, and will last about 30 years,” Tanner noted.
The construction also provides much-needed jobs in the region, he added.
A Rotary club headquartered in the city of Davao is partnering with Gustine Rotary. That club is installing the water filters, and also helps obtain legal documents such as birth certificates, brings them down from the remote regions for medical care, and has started an agricultural high school.
It is essential that the non-profit send nurses to the project areas to explain the need for clean water, Tanner noted, because “they will believe their local nurse who speaks the language.” That contact also builds trust that enables the non-profit to help children access medical care, he said.
The overall goal is to improve living conditions and help promote self-sufficiency, Tanner reported.
“They have next to nothing,” he said of the region’s inhabitants.
Tanner regularly visits clubs throughout District 5220 to promote the water filter program and seek support. He estimates that he has spoken to half or more of the 52 clubs in the district, which stretches from Madera to Galt; from Oakhurst to West Side communities and Tracy/Mountain House. In addition to donations from within the district, Tanner said, he has received contributions from clubs in Washington state, Canada and Australia.
He leverages money raised by the Gustine club and donations from others to obtain matching funds and grants, which collectively make the projects possible.
Big projects are nothing new for the Gustine Rotary Club, Tanner remarked.
In the mid-90s, membership was down to a handful of people and the club’s future was in jeopardy.
“We decided that we could do as much as any big club could do, maybe a little better. We built a reputation off that,” he said.
Membership has since rebounded to about 15 Rotarians, and the group completes a variety of local service projects such as providing dictionaries to third-grade students, funding GUSTO scholarships and sponsoring an annual basketball tournament.
But the water filter project is one which holds deep meaning for Tanner.
The message he takes to neighboring clubs to explain the need is stark and straightforward.
Because they lack clean water, Tanner tells his hosts, “Kids are dying, dammit.”