By Jenny O'Connor, Co-Founder of Groundwork Opportunities
Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

Water is life's matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water. Today, the availability of clean drinking water is a critical problem across the world. In fact, it is perhaps the most critical issue of our lifetime and the fact that people are living without clean water is something that we all need to be concerned about. Someday, in the not so far off future, that person living without water just might be you.

The Amazon. What happened here? What precious treasure was lost? Water.

Despite the seemingly abundant supplies of water in the Amazon rainforest, the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon have found themselves in an epic fight for their rights, for their land, and for their water.  Oil companies have drilled in the area since the 1960s, leaving behind waste pits that contain a mixture of water, petroleum and chemicals, polluting the rivers, streams and groundwater.

After a protracted legal battle, an Ecuadorian judge fined the American company, Chevron, $8.6 billion last year for causing environmental damage in the region from 1964 to 1992 and the judgment has grown to some $18 billion including penalties. Chevron has challenged the legitimacy of the judgment.

Out of this struggle, the ClearWater project was born.

While the tribes and affected peoples of the region have waged a very heroic and dignified lawsuit, which has now become a beast, they are looking to survive on a daily basis and find solutions to the severe water and health crisis they are facing. Someday there will be a resolution to the lawsuit, but for the indigenous people who have suffered for decades without water, the time is now.

The ClearWater project is aimed at improving the life of residents in the region, regardless of the outcome of the legal fight. The river is contaminated by not only oil, but also human and animal waste and everything that comes along with poor infrastructure in the developing world.

Working in collaboration with groups including Engineers Without Borders, Groundwork Opportunities (GO), the San Francisco based NGO I started in 2008, is managing ClearWater and organizing projects to install rainwater collection systems for thousands of indigenous people in the area. The systems cost about $2,000 each, including parts, maintenance, training and other costs to keep them operating.

In August of 2011, we received $60,000 in seed funding from the Irish musician Raymond Garvey and, since then, have raised over $100,000 in funds and installed 72 catchment systems in 2 communities, with the Cofan and the Secoya.

The systems that ClearWater installs collect rainwater sluicing down the corrugated metal roofs common in the region. Gutters channel the water through a series of filters, then to a large plastic storage tank. No electricity is required, just gravity.

The project hires locals to do the installation, with 10 employed so far. More importantly, the tribes have set up a committee to teach their members how to maintain and repair the rainwater systems.

While it is important to honor the epic battle these tribes have fought in the courts to protect their simple basic human rights, I think it is also important that the project remain distinct from the lawsuit, which shows no sign of ending. Through the awareness built around the lawsuit and international campaigns, there are enough people in the world who want a meaningful way to support the communities now, and that is what we are providing with Clearwater.

It is about focusing on solutions. Focusing on the now. Focusing on the positive and loving way to move forward for these communities.

It is also about increasing the access to resources and support that these communities need. Clearwater is able to do this through Groundwork Opportunities’ innovative “Crowd-funding” platform.

If we sent volunteers to second hand sites to fundraise for their cause, such as Kickstarter or the like, we realized they were losing between 15%-20% (from fees) by the time the money actually got to the ground. We wanted to do better than that and keep our 100% to cause promise, which is what we have built with our platform.

For GO’s ClearWater project, it’s important that supporters see that this is a community led project, born out of the communities and being run by the communities, and then take a part in the project in a direct and meaningful way that has a direct impact on the ground.

To give to ClearWater now, become a ClearWater Champion today. 

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