Suburban Rotary volunteers build fish harvesting system for Ugandan community

 
Updated 3/26/2019 6:15 AM
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  • Students at St. Raphael School in Bunnamweri, Uganda and the visiting Rotarians at the completion of the workweek.

    Students at St. Raphael School in Bunnamweri, Uganda and the visiting Rotarians at the completion of the workweek. Courtesy of Rotary District 6440

  • The aquaponics project completed. "This is a form of farm fishing," according to Rotarian Jim Wales of Lake in the Hills. "The goal is that eventually the tanks will be mirrored by local villagers, as a way that they can bring themselves out of poverty."

    The aquaponics project completed. "This is a form of farm fishing," according to Rotarian Jim Wales of Lake in the Hills. "The goal is that eventually the tanks will be mirrored by local villagers, as a way that they can bring themselves out of poverty." Courtesy of Rotary District 6440

  • The students of St. Raphael School in Bunnamweri, Uganda perform for the visiting Rotarians on the day before work begins. The Rotarians were on a mission trip to install an aquaponics tank at the school for the purpose of harvesting tilapia.

    The students of St. Raphael School in Bunnamweri, Uganda perform for the visiting Rotarians on the day before work begins. The Rotarians were on a mission trip to install an aquaponics tank at the school for the purpose of harvesting tilapia. Courtesy of Rotary District 6440

Members of the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights have made a name for themselves with their popular Santa 5K run, which they host every December. But it turns out club members are doing big things a world away in Uganda.

In the coming weeks, look for a presentation by members who traveled in January to St. Raphael School in Bunnamweri, Uganda to provide a sustainable source of protein for its students. Arlington Heights members combined with Rotarians from Lake in the Hills on the project.

Essentially, they worked to build a series of aquaponics tanks, which are a closed system created to harvest fish, in this case, tilapia, to eat and sell. As Rotarians explained, the goal of building the tanks was to provide Bunnamweri residents with protein they lack, as well as a new source of income.

The service trip fulfills two of Rotary's areas of focus: water and sanitation, and economic and community development.

"These people have limited access to meat, so the whole idea of building these tanks is to create the ability for kids to have fish -- which is an excellent source of protein -- added to their diet," says Jim Wales, a Rotarian from Lake in the Hills and international service adviser for the local Rotary district.

"This is a form of farm fishing," he added. "The goal is that eventually the tanks will be mirrored by local villagers, as a way that they can bring themselves out of poverty."

Wales and fellow Rotarians visited St. Raphael School last year and they reached out to Fr. Dennis Kasule, a Ugandan native and teacher at University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, who had established the school.

Kasule welcomed the idea, comparing their project to the old saying, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

"The impact of the aquaponics project will go beyond giving a fish and teaching how to fish," says Kasule. "It opens a new avenue for families to break out of the vicious circle of poverty and indignity and enter the virtuous cycle of dignified living and greater fulfillment."

Rotarians hope the school's tanks will serve as a model for smaller units to be built by locals, where they can grow their own fish to harvest.

With the help of grants from the Schaumburg-based Steppingstones Foundation of Hope, the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, a curriculum is being created and microfinancing is being sourced to get families started.

In all, the Rotarians installed six aquaponics tanks at the school. The 13 volunteers made a 45-minute commute to the worksite each day, which gave them an opportunity to observe how local Bunnamweri residents lived.

"Watching people commute was fascinating," said Betsy Kmiecik, an Arlington Heights Rotary Club member. "Their primary vehicles are motorbikes. You would see four adults on one motorbike. The largest number of people I saw on one motorbike was a family of five."

Linda Borton, another Arlington Heights Rotarian, drew inspiration from all the children in the village.

"We watched kids play soccer, with a ball made from banana leaves," Borton said. "It's amazing what they were able to do with so little."

This was the 10th international service trip for Borton and the third for Kmiecik. Both described their journeys as rewarding and one of the many opportunities available from participating in Rotary.

"You can do all the travel you want to foreign countries," Kmiecik says, "but unless you actually spend time working on a project with local members of the community, you don't get a true feel of what it is like to live in that community."

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