As a new member of SMA Midday Rotary, I was excited to join the club for a morning of painting cisterns. Rainwater Harvesting is one of the club’s flagship programs. Like all Rotary projects, this one was born of necessity. Small villages’ aquifers are often contaminated with fluoride and arsenic. This can lead to cancers, dental catastrophes, and up to a 20% reduction in I.Q. among children who grow up drinking it. Cisterns are our club’s solution. A cistern is a 12,000-liter concrete jug that gathers enough rainwater from nearby rooftops to provide a family of four with water for the year. I’m new to both San Miguel de Allende and to Mexico. Anything cistern-related is miles away from what I’ve seen elsewhere. Game on!
After paved roads turned to less paved roads, we were instructed by a group of women to park alongside some tethered horses. We divided up into three groups with equal parts Rotarians and local mothers. The only men in attendance were Rotarians. Women run this show. We were there to paint the cisterns they’d built with their own hands. Cisterns that keep their children safer and that—with maintenance such as that we would soon perform—should last for generations.
The projected began in 1997 with a multi-week training for this community and others around SMA. They first learn about water safety and health statistics, then how to build and maintain their family’s cistern. Mothers invest 250+ hours apiece, and their pride in the accomplishment comes through in the joy they take maintaining them. We started by scrubbing the cisterns with a wire brush, which is easy on some and difficult on others. We had a team of six, and everyone but me knew exactly what to do without guidance of any sort. There was zero energy wasted, and it was remarkable to be focused on one piece of a giant drum and hear someone say “Está terminando.”
Then we’d put our paint rollers over our shoulders and troop off through a few atajos (shortcuts) to the next cistern. We moved between cisterns quickly with everyone smiling all the while and chatting in whatever language they preferred.
Then the feasting began.
There must have been twenty dishes to choose between and five types of juice I’d never tried before. Everything was homemade. It feels like we ate for hours, yet it wasn’t until I got home that I took time to reflect on how mutually beneficial this relationship is. For example, the club’s Ninas Sabias (please hyperlink) initiative was born of insights gleaned through our cistern program. Equally importantly, these women now know exactly how capable they are. They’re happy to work together for the collective good, which is exactly what Rotary’s all about. Helping families help themselves is a beautiful thing to be a part of, and they take every opportunity to tell you how thrilled they are that we’re with them on this journey. There are fifty-seven communities like this one, and San Miguel’s Rotary clubs are committed to continuing the water harvesting program for as long as mothers continue wanting our support. I will jump at the next opportunity to paint cisterns, and I cordially invite you to join me there!