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More than one third of the global population needs basic sanitation. About 10 percent do not have clean water. Rotary International, one of largest humanitarian service organizations globally, and USAID, the world’s largest governmental aid agency, are partnering to make an impact.

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Balancing volunteer and professional commitments

The Rotary-USAID partnership depends largely on the energy and influence of Rotary’s grassroots volunteers to help communities and local government drive longer lasting change in WASH.

Rotary member Eli Evans, who can often be distinguished with his trademark cowboy hat, is among a small group of members who have earned the title of “Rotary WASH advocacy champions” because of their strong dedication and active participation in the partnership, particularly monitoring and advocacy activities in rural communities across Ghana. Evans signed up to volunteer in the partnership in 2016 after his club, the Rotary club of Accra Spintex (which Evans affectionately calls “the best club in Ghana”), one of the more than 25 Ghanaian clubs participating in the program, called for volunteers for monitoring, advocacy and communication programming activities. Despite having neither prior experience nor special interest in WASH, Evans brought a great passion for volunteering.

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“Coming into water, sanitation and hygiene has really opened my eyes, I’ve learned so much,” he said.  “I actually didn’t realize that providing water and a place of convenience alone is not enough.”  The work has taken Evans to so many rural communities across Ghana, including places he said he would not have otherwise visited. “It takes a lot of our time and a lot of our resources and it also takes us away from our families.” He explained that his family fortunately understands the seriousness of the long-term commitment and supports his passion for volunteering.

Besides volunteering for the partnership, Evans is an IT consultant and website developer and the owner of a business which sells computers and tech accessories in the Ghanaian capital Accra. He explained how he balances his professional and volunteer commitments. “I work more at night and during the day I am more available. When I go on these trips, I also go with my laptop, so at night, if there’s internet connectivity, I am able to work at night.”  He explained that he is able to dedicate substantial time to volunteering in the partnership because he has a manager who is able to run day to day operations of his business.

Evans is fully aware that he is in a privileged position because other Rotary members who are full-time employees of private companies face serious time constraints and limited availability. “A lot of Rotary members who have bowed out are full-time employees of private companies. A lot of us who have remained are entrepreneurs and self-employed folks.” During the second phase of programming of the partnership in Ghana (2016-22), only one fifth of the Rotary members who started the program registered consistent participation to the very end.

This is an important lesson learned from the partnership in Ghana and a critical consideration that should inform the design of future public-private WASH programs involving Rotary.

Reporting by RI’s Mohamed Keita. 

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