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In the late 1970s, members of a Bay Area running club called World Runners decided they preferred to get directly involved with global development projects rather than donating their money to larger international organizations.

Because of the high poverty and infant mortality rates in East Africa, they directed their efforts to combating hunger in that part of the world.

Within a decade, their organization was renamed Global Partners for Development, a Rohnert Park-based nonprofit agency that today continues to help East African communities build sustainable, individualized solutions to problems that range from health and education to getting a glass of clean water, something most Americans take for granted.

“The communities we support are in need of simple interventions,” said Daniel Casanova, the agency’s executive director. “They have water in Africa, but they don’t have the economic infrastructure to access it or to clean it. We do tangible projects. That’s the real value of what we do.”

East African women and children often spend hours a day fetching water from contaminated surface water sources, said Dave Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard and Global Partners’ board president.

Though the water is often boiled or chlorinated before drinking, chronic gastrointestinal problems, typhoid fever and parasitic infections are common results of using it.

Increasing their access to clean water not only improves individual health, said Amy Holter, director of programs and evaluation. “It also frees their time for educational and economic ventures that eventually reduce poverty levels.”

Global Partners helps with both issues. Its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects provide communities with hand-washing stations, bathroom facilities, hygiene education and the infrastructure to deliver water. Its scholarship program provides educational opportunities, especially for women, by paying their tuition, expenses, supplies and room and board.

Stare first learned about the agency through a friend about 15 years ago.

“As I was getting ready to retire, I became interested in Global Partners and wanted to get involved and became a donor,” he said.

Stare has since developed a passion for philanthropy, traveling to Africa several times and becoming president of the board in April. His inspiration comes from the people he serves.

“When you travel to a third-world country, you realize a little goes a long way,” said Stare. “The people are poor but beautiful, honest and hardworking. They need a little help.

“And women are a forgotten resource in a lot of the world. By educating women, you improve the overall vitality of a community.”

Sixteen-year-old Winnie, for example, lives in Kenya and was hired by Global Partners to survey parents of children in schools that will soon be receiving WASH projects.

While talking with her after a long day of surveying, Holter learned that the girl had just lost her mother to cancer. Her father had been gone for years, and Winnie was now the head of the household, caring for two younger siblings. She spent the entire amount she earned from the survey work to buy her mother’s coffin.

Winnie hoped to continue her education but didn’t have the funds to feed her family, let alone put herself through school. Global Partners decided to help her complete her education.

“Winnie is an example of thousands of young African girls who are unable to go to school due to financial and social constraints,” said Holter. “When a young girl is educated, her children are more likely to be educated. Educating a girl can transform a family for generations.

“Winnie has a long way to go, but she started school this fall, and with education there is hope.”

Global Partners was well funded until the recession, when annual donations fell nearly 45 percent in just one year, from $4.2 million to $2.3 million.

“In 2008, the organization took a pretty significant financial hit,” said Casanova. “We began to lose donors, and a ripple effect occurred where gradually each year, due to donors’ financial woes, we lost more revenue.”

Shortly afterwards, the founding executive director retired, and in 2012, with revenue of just $256,000, a new staff was hired to rebuild the organization.

That year Stare developed a Vineyards to Villages program, partnering with nine family-owned Sonoma County wineries that now produce special V2V wines. Fifty percent of their sales price is donated to the agency for water systems in western Kenyan villages.

“We’re turning wine into water,” said Stare. V2V sales brought in about $40,000 in 2014.

“For 35 years, we’ve been doing grassroots works and we see how transformative it is. I hope we can continue on the same path and stay relevant,” said Casanova.

With the ultimate goal of creating communities that are self-sustaining, said Stare, “hopefully, we’ll be out of business in 100 years.”

Contact Global Partners at gpfd.org or 588-0550.

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