Kentwood Students Begin Kenyan Water Project with Journey of Their Own

Water splashed and faces grimaced as Challenger Elementary students took on the task of hoisting buckets containing about 20 pounds of water a short distance from a preserved wetland area to their school.

“Painful. My back! Horrendous,” said Challenger Elementary fifth graders in response to their trek taking turns carrying buckets.

The journey provided a small taste of what it’s like for Kenyan children who walk miles each day to retrieve water. For them the water, while dirty, is precious, said Principal Mark Bea. “When survival is an issue, water becomes more important than gold,” he said

“This is just a small example of young people, even younger than yourselves, carrying buckets of water to their villages,” said fifth-grade teacher Dion Price.Students carry buckets in teams

The water journey kicked off this year’s efforts to raise money for wells and water filters for Bartabwa, Kenya. Challenger Elementary partners with the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision for the multi-year project. Last year students raised about $4,500. The end goal is $15,000, enough to pay for a well.

Changing Lives

According to information from World Vision, 2,000 children worldwide under age 5 die each day from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and spreadby lack of basic sanitation and hygiene. World Vision reaches a new person with clean drinking water every 30 seconds. Since 2011 it has built or rehabilitated 5,340 wells and water points in 12 countries, 1.8 million people have gained access to clean drinking water and 126,660 latrines have been built.

While fundraisers for the project this year are still taking shape, students plan to host a cultural dinner with presentations about World Vision and visit other Kentwood Schools to encourage students to plan fundraisers to support the project. The are also encouraging people to sponsor Kenyan families. A $35 per month sponsorship provides clean water, health care, food and education, according to information from World Vision.

In Kenya, many children have lost their parents to AIDS and war, and many do not go to school.

“We have an awesome, awesome opportunity not only to make a difference for one person but for thousands.”said Price.

An Eye-Opening Experience

Bea told students that Kenyan children often must travel 3-4 miles for more than a day to get water by themselves. Because water is so scarce they retrieve it from the same wetlands animals use. The fresh rainwater the Kentwood children carried is probably much cleaner than the water Kenyans drink and bathe in.

Challenger students carried the buckets in teams for two-tenths of a mile. “They are traveling at least 10 times further than you in the best conditions, by themselves,” Bea said. “Keep this experience in mind: You walked just a fraction of what they’re walking in Bartabwa, Kenya.”

Teachers Price, Laura Noffke and Tiffany Williams scooped water into buckets from the flooded wetlands before students took over.

“It would be really challenging to do it every day,” said student Madeline Heemstra. “I can understand more about Kenya and realize how fortunate we are to be able to turn on the faucet and just use the water.”

Teacher Dion Price helped retrieve water from the wetlandStudent Rachel Tiv called the idea of trekking for water every day “tiring,” but said she it feels great to “make lives better for people around the world. If you were to drink dirty water you would get sick almost immediately,” she said.

While students said the work was hard, Akyia Johnson said it made her realize something important. “I feel grateful that I am here learning instead of going through an experience like that,” she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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