“We’re walking for water!” a Jennings Junior School student shouted while waving a sign at passing cars. Many honked in solidarity.
She was one of nearly 200 students who hiked nearly three miles through Jennings on Thursday, March 22 to walk in the shoes of people in rural Kenya, who must walk three miles one way daily to fetch water.
“Think about why you’re doing this,” said Sheri Wade, the Jennings Junior High School teacher who coordinated the community service event.
Lack of access to and adequate supplies of clean drinking water affects health in a number of ways. Contaminated water transmits or causes preventable infectious diseases, like diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Water supplies that are contaminated with waste or chemical pollution is a growing problem. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source that is contaminated with feces. WHO estimates contaminated drinking water causes 502,000 diarrhea deaths each year.
While diarrhea is the most widely known disease linked to contaminated food and water, there are other hazards. WHO reports nearly 240 million people are affected by schistosomiasis – an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms contracted through exposure to infested water. WHO estimates in just seven years – by 2025 – half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed nations.
With the walk, students, staff, administrators and Superintendent Art McCoy were given first-hand insight on how privileged they are to have instant access to clean drinking water.
The walk was co-sponsored by WE Schools, a program that includes educational partners in 12,300 schools and groups across North America and the United Kingdom. The group challenges young people to identify the local and global issues and act to make the world a better place.
Before the young people set off walking, they gathered in the school cafeteria for a presentation by Reggie Bates, a speaker for WE’s Central Region. He shared a video that gave the students a first-hand account of the journey many Kenyans must make to get the water their family needs to survive.
A Kenyan woman named Nepa described how for 35 years she spent one-fourth of her entire day – six hours in total, back and forth – fetching water.
“I think about the walk every day,” Nepa said. “I wonder what I could have done with all of that time. Could I have provided a better life for myself and my children?”
With funds raised through WE, an irrigation system was built for her village. In the clip, the Jennings students saw Nepa take her last steps in the name of clean water just as they were preparing to walk three miles in her shoes.
“I’m so happy that y’all are doing something for a community far larger than your own,” Bates told the students. “Every step you take, I want you to think that about that: Those steps are for somebody who truly needs it.”
Each group of five students was given a five-gallon jug to fill with water halfway on their journey.
“That group you’re in, that is your community,” Wade said. “Within your community, I want you to be responsible for bringing this water back to the school. I see some of you in the morning who walk all the way to Fairview to drop off your brothers and sisters and come back to school. Today I’m asking you to do this walk to encourage others.”
Funds pledged on behalf of the student walkers will go towards building a well in Kenya. Their goal is to raise $5,000. According to their Crowdrise fundraising page, by press time they had raised $685.
They had been planning the activity since December, but had to wait until the winter weather broke. The group didn’t realize until after they had selected the date that it was World Water Day.
When the group made it back to the school, 8th grader Calian Edwards plopped his jug down at the bottom of the steps leading up to the front door and let out a sigh of relief.
“As I was walking, I was like, ‘Man, millions of Africans have to do this every day,’” Edwards said. “They have to do this with water they can’t even drink right when they get back.”
He wore the 16 pounds of water strapped on like a backpack for the last leg of the walk.
“I had to push the pain aside, but it gave me a piece of their experience,” said Edwards. “I felt good carrying the water, because it was a way for me to embrace what they go through.”
Jennings Junior High School Principal Charmyn Andrews said the event fit the school’s theme this year of “Walking with a Purpose.”
“It was exhilarating to see our young people walking with a purpose,” Andrews said. “It’s a joy knowing what they are walking for and seeing them think of things outside of themselves.”
McCoy said that the students are setting an example for the community to follow.
“It’s awesome to see our children galvanizing and mobilizing for action and change,” said McCoy, the district superintendent. “They are leaders – and we tell them they are leaders every day. Now, they are showing it.”
To donate towards Jennings Junior High’s effort to build a well in Kenya, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/jennings-jr-high-we-walk-for-water.