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Safe water for Frei Damiao
Impoverished Brazilian city spurs local Rotary project
By Bernie Delinski -
Special to the TimesDaily
Bill Rogers, a Tennessee Valley Authority chemist from Florence, is among volunteers who have traveled to the city of Frei Damiao, Brazil, where Florence Rotary Club members and others have been on mission trips. The Rotary Club has a project to install a system that provides safe drinking water to the impoverished city.

FLORENCE — Parasites fester on children. Waste contaminates mud-filled water lines. City water is a rarity.

Those scenes from mission trips to Frei Damiao, Brazil, are emblazoned into Florence Rotary Club member David Burch's memory.

Most residents of the poverty-stricken city of 12,000 in southern Brazil live in shanty-type homes and struggle to get clean water.

"Few Frei Damiao residents have access to city water," Burch said. "The way they get water is they've connected up to the water supply illegally. You can see water lines connected by PVC pipes into water lines. You see PVC pipes through the whole neighborhood.

"There's a lot of ditches, and people throw waste into the ditches. When it rains, that waste gets spread everywhere."

Burch has accompanied three of six mission teams led by Dr. Patrick Daughtery to Frei Damiao to provide medical help for the residents.

Burch served as a translator on the trip, which was particularly meaningful to him because the ancestors of his wife, Ariete, had settled in that area from Germany in the 1820s.

The local members of the mission, including several Rotary members, returned with stories about the difficult conditions in Frei Damiao.

That inspired Florence Rotarians to help.

The Florence club applied for a $4,000 grant from The Rotary Foundation to help pay for a clean-water project that provides a water-filtration system for about 130 residents in the city, Rotarian Ray Methvin said.

It will cost about $10,500 for the purchase, shipping and port fees of the BioSand filters, Methvin said.

The Florence club provided $5,000 toward the costs, and additional individual donations have totaled about $2,000, he said.

Rotarians now are planning a trip to the city, where they will install the system to 130 homes and instruct residents on upkeep and use, Burch said.

"We'll take volunteers down for installation of filters, and also for buying and separating filter media down there," he said. "You have to have a specific quantity of each sizes of media for each bucket."

Methvin said this is a permanent solution, rather than a short-term fix such as a temporary water supply.

"It's not just enough to go there and take them water and say ‘here you go, here's 100 gallons of water for your family,' " Methvin said. "It's better to teach them to clean their own water.

"This is a bucket-water system. It involves a sand-filtering media that allows these folks to very simply clean and create their own potable water. The filter medium would be available locally and can be sustained locally and it's not very expensive. So they would be able to keep it up on their own so it's not a situation where our group or someone has to spend thousands to keep going down there."

Frei Damiao is considered one of the 20 worst slum areas in Brazil, Methvin said.

"Some of the Rotary members who have been really involved with this for a number of years and worked there say it's like going back to the 1400s and 1500s," he said. "There's open sewage and a lot of dependence on animals instead of anything motorized.

"Sewage is dumped in streets, and it's above sea level, so there's no real way to flush it anywhere. So they wind up drinking and using this mix of foul water that they are trying to raise their kids in."

Burch said the first mission trip in 2004 was eye-opening.

"All the children had parasites when we went there our first year," he said. "After three or four years, it started getting better. It's down to about half of them having parasites instead of all of them. The children are sick a lot because of that."

Burch discovered the filter system while visiting an Amazon region in Brazil. He told club members about it when he returned.

"This is a pilot project," he said. "Our goal is to place 130 filters, and if it goes well, we hope to place more. We want to establish contact with the Rotary Club there. Then you can have a global grant."

He said there are about 2,500 homes in the city.

"It's a pitiful situation to see all those children, and parents also, who get sick from the water," Burch said. "I've talked with hundreds of these people, and I consider them to be, for a group with no education, intelligent people. They just don't have a chance in life.

"They keep their homes clean and neat and they like to stay clean. The government hasn't stepped in and provided sanitation. We're hoping this will spur the government to action. When they see Rotary Club members come in and put in these filters, maybe they'll think, ‘We need to do something.' "

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or

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