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Turning a Dream of Clean Water Into Action

  • 5 min read

With support from Rotary, Georgian Bay Drinking Water Program interns have a bright future ahead.

For interns of the Georgian Bay Drinking Water Internship Program, graduation was just the beginning. Since completing their training, the 14 graduates have been busy engaging with their communities and pursuing further education or employment in water treatment or the water sciences field. With 1,800 hours of on-the-job experience in water treatment plants under their belts, along with other training in water monitoring and environmental science, they are well on their way to a bright future.

A significant factor in their success is support from the Rotary Club of Guelph and Rotary International.

In 2020, Rotary Club of Guelph led a fundraising initiative that leveraged club and matching funds into a Global Grant of approximately $115,000 to support the Water First Drinking Water Internship Program being delivered in partnership with eight Indigenous communities in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario. 

Rotary members around the world contribute their skills, expertise, and resources to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems. From providing clean water to promoting peace worldwide, Rotary Foundation grants bring service project ideas to life. Since it was founded more than 100 years ago, the Rotary Foundation has spent more than $4 billion on life-changing, sustainable projects to make lives better for communities here and around the globe. 

Rotary International is one of the largest service organizations in the world. Their mission is to create lasting change by providing service to others, promoting integrity, and advancing world understanding, goodwill, and peace through their fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.

“Our committee and I think all Rotarians have longed to provide meaningful assistance to Indigenous communities as they deal with the water crisis,” said Dianne Dance, Indigenous Awareness Committee, Rotary Club of Guelph. “The entire club often voiced frustration that we can assist Internationally but not address the water crisis affecting Turtle Island’s First Nations peoples, everyday, year after year.”

Positive change is a key outcome of the Drinking Water Internship. As part of the program, the interns worked towards the water operator in training (OIT) certification and prepared for additional water operator certification exams including water quality analyst and the entry-level course for drinking water operators. These new credentials and skills will serve the interns well as they grow in their careers and as they strive to support clean water in their own communities. 

Nick Chapman (left) and Destiny Geroux (right) during Enviro Week, one of the week-long training sessions as part the Georgian Bay Internship.

Nick Chapman, an intern from Temagami First Nation, said, “I have grown new skills and experiences I’d never thought I would get. I have taught children at my reserve what Water Treatment Operators are and how water is tested and analyzed. It was amazing seeing my community learning about what I’m trying to be.”

One key aspect of the training program is to build connections from foundational knowledge to real-world jobs and further education. Water First educators help students create these connections through hands-on activities and group work in the classroom, in the lab, and out on the land.

“Every single thing that we did was somehow wrapped into our culture,” said Bella McLeod, a graduate from Nipissing First Nation. “We always had a welcoming ceremony for each prep course. When we got together it was always very traditional, talking about our ways, the ways of the land.”

Following graduation, interns join the Water First Alumni Network to stay engaged, build local networks and access opportunities for ongoing professional development and peer support.

“I have met so many Rotarians who are supportive of Water First and our mandate, and who genuinely care and are invested in the success of the program and the interns,” said Ami Gopal, Director of Development & Communications at Water First. “With support from Rotary, these young people will go on to achieve great things and support their communities in accessing safe, clean water for the long term.”

Water First is grateful for support from the Rotary Foundation which helped fund the Global Grant Project, as well as the Rotary Clubs of Guelph and Buffalo Sunrise, Guelph Trillium, Guelph South, and Brampton, and Rotary Districts 7080 and 7090.

Rotary is an international service organization with 46,000 clubs in over 200 countries. There are 1.4 million Rotarians and Rotaractors in the world.

The Georgian Bay Drinking Water Internship Program was a partnership with Waabnoong Bemjiwang Association of First Nations, Gezhtoojig Employment & Training Anishinabek Nation and Water First. The program launched in June 2021 in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario. Learn more about the Drinking Water Internship Program.

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Water plant operator in the office