The Bayonne Rotary Club, the AME Zion Church, and students at all of the city’s elementary schools and Bayonne High School, are helping to bring fresh drinking water to residents of Guyana, a country on South America’s northern coast.
Understanding that 780 million people in the world—or or one out of every nine people—lack access to a clean water source, the Bayonne students, Rev. Dorothy Patterson, and the Rotary Club are working to increase the number of people with drinkable water little by little each year.
The Bayonne Rotary Guyana Water Well Project was launched because of the startling statistics of water and sewage availability and usage in Guyana.
Only 53 percent of Guyana’s population has access to house connections for water supply, and only 13 percent have access to sewerage services, according to Rev. Patterson.
The closest most people in our area have come to this type of hard life was immediately after Hurricane Sandy struck, according to Patterson.
“When we didn’t have hot water, there were those who were inconvenienced,” she said. “But people live like this every day. They’re not able to walk up and turn a faucet to get water. They [in Guyana] don’t have water to do the things they need to do. It seems sort of funny, because we live in the 21st century. But water is a luxury in many counties.”
Since Patterson and some of her fellow Rotarians have close ties with relatives and friends in Guyana, two years ago the Bayonne Rotary Club—with the support of the Bayonne Board of Education—decided to get involved with the project in Guyana. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan and Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Robert C. Craig are Bayonne Rotarians. Irene Pyke and Mattie Techin are district teachers also involved with the project.
Patterson’s church has a presence in Guyana, so it was a natural fit for her group. The same holds true for the Rotary, which Patterson said was started early in the last century to help eradicate polio.
“So many other diseases are caused by the sanitation not being satisfactory and people not having clean water,” Patterson said.
Since clean water and sanitation are so vital to good health, these two areas are currently the focus of the Rotary.
The well water project in Guyana has three phases.
Using the money raised by the Bayonne students, Rev. Paterson, and the Rev. John D. Givens, a Paterson Rotarian and pastor of the Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and liaison to Guyana, and District 7490 Rotarians went to Guyana and started phase one by providing clean water in two areas there. This was accomplished by the installation of seven filtered 400-gallon water tanks.
Since the new tanks can be filled only when it rains, the water does not last very long. So the Rotarians quickly began phase two of the project by refurbishing existing inoperable water wells. Working with the Georgetown, Guyana Rotary Club and Rotarian and city engineer Aubrey Roberts, a nonworking pump was replaced with a new pump with five outlets operating simultaneously, which was able to also provide clean water to a neighboring community.
The third phase, now in progress, will consist of providing two wells in a third area, and again, with at least five outlets throughout the community for accessible clean water.
The residents of the three communities were very grateful for the work already completed and the anticipated completion of this third phase, according to Patterson.
Heather Zalis, Bayonne School District coordinator of student councils and Woodrow Wilson School moderator, represents the students, who are an integral part of the project because of their fundraising.
“Thanks go to all the generous students and staff of the Bayonne Board of Education, who over the last two years have raised more than $13,000 for this lifesaving project,” Patterson said.
Over the past seven years Bayonne students have raised more than $36,000 for water well projects in not only Guyana, but also Africa, India/Pakistan, Jamaica, and Haiti. Every year but one the students have raised more than the previous year.
Patterson said that the project fits in with the Four Way Test of the Rotary.
“The Four Way Test asks these questions: Is it the Truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendship? Is it beneficial to all concerned?,” Patterson said. “Therefore, it is easy for us to say that the Guyana Water Well Project unequivocally has passed the Four Way Test of Rotary and fulfills our motto of ‘Service Above Self.’”
In April, a breakfast was hosted by the Rotary at the Chandelier Restaurant to honor Bayonne students for raising $6,900 during the 2013-2014 school year.
The guest of honor was Rev. Givens. Patterson and Givens had just returned from Guyana to help direct the water well projects, and Patterson gave a photo presentation of her experiences on the trip and the water well project work that was ongoing thanks to the money from the Bayonne students.
“In the past few years working with the Rotary Club on the Water Wells project, I have realized that there are some parallels between Rotary Club and student council,” Zalis said. “Both have a mission to help the community here in Bayonne and around the world. What a great model for the students to see and emulate.”
Student funds for the water wells project came through $5 Wear Denim days and a number of other fundraisers.
Making a difference
Patterson, who visits Guyana once or twice a year to work on the well projects, says the effort will not end any time soon.
“We will continue because the wells are definitely needed,” she said. “We may never see these individuals, but by giving $5, $20, whatever, it means we have made their lives better. We are
cutting down on disease and infections. We’re making a healthier world by doing this. It's all about everyone working together.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at: JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.