Students raise money to fund water initiatives in Kenya

Seventh-graders at Jefferson Junior High in Naperville are rethinking how much water they waste daily versus how much water in a single day kids their age in Africa must carry for miles to bring water home for their families.

Caroline Byne said unlimited water is available to kids in Naperville, but that is far from the case elsewhere in the world.

During social studies lessons on Africa, students in seventh grade learned about the poverty and how fresh, clean water is not readily available from a tap like it is in Naperville.

One in five children in Africa does not live to see his or her fifth birthday, and water is a contributing factor to that mortality rate, said social science teacher Chris Heffernan.

“Our students were horrified to learn that many people in Africa lack access to clean water, and they wanted to do something about it,” said Heffernan.

Heffernan told his students about a woman he met at a fall social studies conference who was promoting H20 for Life, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating youth to become global citizens through creating the means to provide clean water and proper sanitation to developing countries.

Heffernan said the students’ decision was not made in haste.

“I told them to think about it overnight and decide if they were really committed,” he said.

Seventh-grader Jaime Lorenzen said kids her age can make a difference.

“This was our chance to make a mark on this world,” Jaime said.

Fellow student Sophia Cook echoed Jaime’s perspective.

“One person can help a kid get fresh water to survive,” she said.

The Naperville kids pledged to raise $2,500 for H2O for Life to fund washing stations, a clean drinking water source and sanitary bathrooms at Gakui Primary School in Kenya.

For six weeks, a group of 25 students gave up the time at lunch twice a week to work on fundraising ideas for the charity.

The students collected $1,300 by selling locker signs and hosting a hat day where kids paid $1 for the opportunity to wear a hat for a half of a day. They also are organizing a ping pong tournament.

Their biggest event held on Friday was Walk for Water, where more than 100 students, teachers and family members signed up to walk three miles around the school while lugging gallons of water.

The three-mile hike simulates the trip children and women in Africa often trek multiple times a day in a quest to get water for cooking, drinking, bathing and sanitation.

“And they’re barefoot,” Jaime said.

Shirley Salas said people donated milk jugs, 5-gallon water bottles, and orange juice containers, and students filled the containers with water. Caps and lids intentionally were left off the bottles because kids in Africa often spill the water they collected before reaching their home.

Each person who donated $15 to participate in the walk, which started at 8 p.m., received a T-shirt and a glow stick.

In addition to raising money, the kids are assessing their own water use habits, such as not leaving the tap running while brushing their teeth.

All water the kids carried during their trip was poured on plants around the school (the plastic bottles were recycled, too).

“I used to take showers for granted,” student Elise Irvine said. “I try to be better and use less water. I take quicker showers.”

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