Three years ago the Penticton Okanagan Rotary Club had their sights set on an international project, and what started as an idea has changed the daily lives of thousands of people on the other side of the world.
Tarik Sayeed, a City of Penticton councillor, helped set the project in motion three years ago.
“My dad is one of the Rotary members in Bangladesh, which is where I’m from originally, that is kind of what inspired us to join the Rotary Club when we came to Penticton,” Sayeed said.
Up until now the Penticton Okanagan chapter had never had an international project of their own. They had chipped in on international projects put forward by other Rotary chapters, but most of their work focused on local programs.
A survey of the club at the time showed an international project of their own was a top priority.
Sayeed spoke to his father when he heard the local chapter was looking for an international project and was able to start a connection between the two clubs.
Three years later, the twin village Rajapur-Fultoli in Bangladesh is now benefitting from 13 tube wells, water pipelines, sports equipment, 30 sewing machines, 30 head of cattle, six irrigation machines and medical services courtesy of an international partnership formed between the Penticton Okanagan and Sonargaon Dhaka Rotary chapters.
Sayeed and his wife return to Bangladesh at least once a year and they always make sure to make a stop in and check up on the project. They were also able to attend a meeting with the local Rotary chapter during one of the visits, who Sayeed said were excited to welcome them.
“It was really like magic,” Sayeed said. “The reason I say that is when we first went there these kids, really young little kids, were walking around the mud and had no idea about hygiene or any of that stuff, they didn’t have any water. Now, they had eight, nine taps just at one location and now they’re building a school.”
The villages faced challenges including poverty, lack of clean water, health issues, and general quality of life. To see the project unfold first hand over the years was an incredible experience according to Sayeed.
“It was humanizing,” he said.
The Penticton Okanagan Rotary donated $5,000 of their own funds from fundraising efforts for the needs assessment on top of the successful application for a $38,000 grant from Rotary International. When counting the interest the grant money accrued before it was able to be put into use, and local contributions from the Sonargaon and Dhaka Rotary chapters the total amount of funds raised for the village was closer to $45,000 estimates Barry Reid, past president and director of the Penticton Okanagan Rotary.
He said the initial needs assessment was an important step in the process because it took into account the needs of people of all ages and genders in the villages.
“It showed what their priorities and what their greatest needs were, because the people in the villages gave their input for that,” Reid said.
Having a local connection in Sayeed and his father also helped with the success of the project.
“As the project went through, we had someone that we knew and we trusted and everything that lived right there and was a rotarian involved with the club we partnered with,” Reid said.
Reid said the most important, and usually the most difficult, factor in a large, international project like this is forming a strong partnership on the other side of the globe.
“The difficult part is connecting. You need a connection between the two clubs. We had a really strong connection with,” Reid said.
Material donations were only one side of the project. There were three phases including the initial needs assessment along with an action plan and the final stages of implementation. The twin village received support through education on animal husbandry, health issues, income generation and agricultural production as well.
“As it went along they realized people were listening to what their needs were and following up on that and their own priorities were being met and they could see it happening, it was very positive,” Reid said.
The project also increased positive social interactions between individuals and families within the Rajapur-Fultoli community and established groups to address the sustainability of the project’s initiatives.
Social programs also encouraged both genders and various age groups to get involved in community decision making and to help improve the economic outlook of the community.
The donations even helped village youth win a local soccer tournament while wearing jerseys sporting a Rotary logo and the names of the sponsoring Penticton-Okanagan and Dhaka clubs.