What does it feel like to carry 5 gallons of water (about 40 pounds) on your back for more than 3 miles?
Washington High School senior John Beuke will find out this Saturday, April 9, at the H2O for Life, Walk for Water 5K event being held at the WHS track from 8 a.m. to noon.
The event is a fundraiser organized by students in Kerri Flynn’s college credit sociology class to have a water well installed at Kumi Comprehensive Secondary School in Uganda.
In addition to walking the 5K, people have the option of carrying 5 gallons of water as they walk so they can experience for themselves what it is like for children living in Uganda, said Beuke, one of Flynn’s sociology students.
“Every day, millions of people especially young girls and women, spend their day walking to fetch water,” the Walk for Water flier reads. “On average they carry 40 pounds of water for nearly six hours, walking over 3 miles.”
H2O for Life is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to bring water and latrines to schools in developing nations.
To have a well installed at the Kumi Comprehensive Secondary School in Uganda will cost $3,850. Already the WHS students have raised $2,000 toward that goal by holding in-school change drives and dine-to-donate events around the community.
They began planning the Walk for Water 5K about two months ago when Flynn asked her students if they would be interested in trying to raise $1,000 to help build a well in Uganda. The students agreed, and it wasn’t long before they increased their goal to the full $3,850.
“We were talking about different cultures around the world, and how things are different in other countries than in America, so when we realized how other kids are affected by these sorts of things, like having to walk so far to get water, we thought this was something we could help them with. Raise money for a well,” said Briana Barton, a junior in Flynn’s sociology class.
“We came across the Lost Boys of Sudan who walked from their country all the way to another refugee camp, and we were like, how can we help these people?” added Beuke, who is one of Flynn’s students.
They placed empty milk jugs in classrooms throughout the school asking students to donate their spare change. They turned the drive into a competition, promising a doughnut or pizza party to the classroom that raised the most money.
Teachers had fun with the competition too. One would shake the jug each morning to remind and encourage students to participate. Another one set a goal of filling up an R2-D2 mug.
But it wasn’t just the competition that prompted students to chip in their change. Many wanted to contribute to the cause, to know they were helping make a difference in the world, said Katie Chafin, a senior sociology student.
“When we explained how people (in Uganda) have to walk 6 miles every morning just to get water, they wanted to help,” Chafin commented. Beuke agreed.
“I think students want to be involved, they just didn’t have a way to get involved,” said Beuke. “We provided an outlet for them.”
‘This Will Be Life-Changing for Them’
Students in the WHS Key Club, a student-led service organization, are providing their classmates another outlet to get involved — a shoe drive to benefit Shoes & Hope, a nonprofit that raises money from the sale of old shoes to fund water projects and other community development projects locally and globally.
A few weeks ago, Key Club students set up four bins (one for each class — freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors) in Northington Hall at the WHS front entrance where people could donate new or gently used shoes.
Like the change drive, the shoe drive is a competition between the classes, said Mikayla Reed, a sophomore Key Club member.
Bins also have been placed around the community, to collect even more donations, and a large collection bin will be set up this Saturday at the Walk for Water 5K.
“Because both projects lead to water in a developing community, we thought it would be neat to combine our efforts,” said Katie Sandoval, a WHS guidance counselor and cosponsor of Key Club with Kelly Wood, a WHS English instructor.
“Instead of having a separate community event to collect shoes, we thought we could bring the two projects together, hopefully get more people to support both causes,” said Elly Kehl, a senior Key Club member. “We helped them with their change drive; they are helping us with our shoe drive. It just worked out.”
The shoe drive for Shoes & Hope is exactly the kind of social project Key Club likes to take on, said Wood. And teaming up with another group, like Flynn’s sociology students and their Walk for Water 5K, is something she hopes can happen more often.
“Key Club has grown this year,” said Wood. “We worked on a project with FCA in February to support flood victims in our area. Now we are coupling with the sociology class. So I like that Key Club is not only a service organization, but we are a support organization for other identities within our school and our community.”
Christy Weber with Shoes & Hope said she has been impressed with how the WHS students have taken ownership of the shoe drive project.
“I love to see you guys embracing this kind of thing,” said Weber. “You have a really amazing opportunity to open people’s eyes. We all tend to be in our own little world, but middle class Americans are wealthier than 99 percent of the world.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Why bother?’ . . . but I’ve been to Uganda, and this will be life-changing for them,” Weber remarked.
What Happens to the Shoes?
Shoes & Hope will pick up all of the shoes that WHS collects and take them to another nonprofit, Community Living in St. Peters, to be sorted.
Community Living is a nonprofit organization that works with adults with disabilities, said Weber. Adults in the day program there will sort and pair up the shoes, putting them in bags of 25. The shoes will later be sold through an exporter in Miami.
“We are paid per pound, and the money is used for clean water projects, hygiene and sanitation, mainly in Latin America,” said Weber.
Eventually the shoes too will make their way to countries in Central and South America, where street vendors will sell them at an affordable price for people in the communities, said Weber.
‘Inspiring’ for Teachers, Students Alike
Seeing students take on outside projects to make the world a better place, like the Walk for Water 5K and the Shoes & Hope shoe drive, is the kind of thing educators dream of.
“Clearly it feels outstanding,” said Sandoval. “When we see kids supporting in the community, that’s fantastic, but when you see them thinking globally, how inspiring that is, and encouraging really.
“I know we have great kids here (at WHS) and great things going on, but I think sometimes people don’t quite realize how hard our students do work to promote awareness and do good things. It’s a good feeling,” said Sandoval.
“I feel like our Washington students are ripe for going out into the community,” she said. “We have so many great students, but taking that step and making it more visible, like the walk, the shoe collecting activity, taking it to the churches . . . you know, we are a hub right here. We are our own little environment right here, but when we start branching out from all of that, that’s what’s exciting for me.”
Beuke said he is hopeful that the Walk for Water 5K will be the first of many fundraiser projects taken on by future WHS sociology students.
“I hope we set the tradition for years to come,” he remarked.
That could very well be possible, said Wood, noting that there have been discussions about offering a class at WHS that would allow students to select a platform, focus on it for a semester and culminate in an event or final project.
“When you have class time to take on a platform, and really focus and go deep into that platform, then real learning takes place, real action takes place,” said Wood.
“So what I foresee happening as a result . . . is that we actually add a service-oriented class into our curriculum so a student would come in and for a semester to work on something like Girls on the Run or collaborate with WINGS or whatever their platform might be, and they completely organize an event, talk to the people, create brochures, be a liaison — basically develop their own four-month-long plan on how to create change within that one organization.
“What a great learning experience that would be, but also what a great connection that would be to our communities to build stronger communities via our great students here at the high school,” said Wood.
To participate in the H2O for Life, Walk for Water 5K, people can show up at the WHS track this Saturday morning to register before the event begins at 8 a.m.
To donate shoes to the Shoes & Hope shoe drive, people can bring them to the WHS track this Saturday between 8 a.m. and noon.
For more information on H2O for Life, people can visit www.h2oforlifeschools.org.
For more information on Shoes & Hope, go to www.shoesandhope.org or call 314-594-7463.