By JENNA LOUGHLIN
Special to the OBSERVER
WESTFIELD – The story may be about children thousands of miles away, but the struggle of those children inspired one class of local students to make a difference.
Laura Wilson’s advanced eighth grade English class at Westfield Academy and Central School was challenged to raise money to build a well in South Sudan in Africa after reading “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park. The book includes the stories of two 11-year-old Sudanese youths, a Lost Boy named Salva Dut and a girl named Nya. It describes the trials people, including children, have to go through in South Sudan, just to get water.
After reading the book, Wilson’s class, consisting of Sydnee Abele, Ariel Breads, Alaina Cockram, Cassia Connolly, Allex Davidson, Eric Fermier, Emma Knappenberger, Rachel Mathews, Lindsey Songer, Hailey Tredo and Brock Vicary, was assigned the challenge to come up with its own ideas to raise money for Water for South Sudan, Inc., an organization founded by Dut, who now resides in Rochester, that drills water wells in Southern Sudan and built 33 just last year. For more information, visit www.waterforsudan.org.
“They’ve done a great job with it and gotten very excited about it,” Wilson said. “They have a lot of good ideas.”
The students have come up with many inventive ways to raise funds, including asking for donations at recent school concerts and sporting events and selling cookies, “Hope is our water” rubber bracelets and salsa. Hailey wrote to Ellen DeGeneres and WGRZ in the hopes of gaining support for the cause.
Additionally, classrooms across WACS have “teacher torture” jars in each room. The teachers in the five rooms which collect the most money will have to wear a clown costume to school. Local businesses Portage Pie of Westfield and Great Lakes Tree Service of Westfield have also donated to the students’ cause.
“I’m guiding, but they’re doing all of the footwork,” Wilson said.
On Tuesday, May 28, the students will be hosting the Harlem All-Stars versus the WACS faculty to raise money. So far, the students have raised $1,300. The goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year because then the well would be named after the school district.
The reasons to donate are simple, but plentiful.
“(People) should think, ‘What if (I) “(People) should think, ‘What if (I) didn’t have water?'” Sydnee said. “What if you couldn’t get up in the middle of the night and go get a glass of water?”
“Think about all of the other innocent people in the world that have nothing, except for a few things maybe and a couple of friend and family while almost everybody in America has water and everything they need,” Allex said.
Hailey suggested parents donate to give what their own children have – easy access to clean water – to children in less fortunate parts of the world. Cassia suggested people donate because these are other human beings who are living and need water.
“When you have everything you need, why not give to people who don’t have what they need because everybody should be treated equally,” she said. “There’s not supposed to be people who have way more than they need and then people who don’t have enough.”
Also, one of the rules of the wells built by Water for South Sudan, Inc., is no one can be denied water from the well, regardless of what village they come from or what tribe they belong to.
In addition to receiving praise from the Westfield Academy and Central School Board of Education when Secondary Principal Ivana Hite has given updates on the students’ progress or the class has been given permission for another fundraising idea, the class’ challenge was even mentioned by Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards in his March 11 Monday Morning Memo.
The students have really embraced the challenge of raising money to build a well in South Sudan because, through the stories of Dut and Nya, they realized how different their lives would be if water was not as easy to come by as just turning on the water faucet. The level of understanding of the situation, compassion for those affected and desire for children to get an education was very evident. For these students, this challenge is not about money, but about changing lives of strangers in another continent for the better.
“When you just think of how lucky we are and how we can help them, it just makes you want to help them,” Alaina said.
Last year, she traveled to Nicaragua and saw the children there. She recounted not being able to believe that one little boy was 10 years old because he was so small and therefore looked so much younger. She also said she could tell he was not getting the best treatment and looked sickly.
“It just kind of makes you think … we have all the stuff that we need here in America and that overseas somewhere and he might get … shoes and be the happiest kid in the world,” Alaina said.
For Eric Fermier, it was the realization that once a well was built in Nya’s village, it allowed her to go to school and “actually be a kid” because she did not have to make the daily trek to another village for water.
“There’s probably other villages (in Sudan) that don’t have any water and they still have to walk very far to get water,” he said. “I want to help them so they can get a good education and clean water.”
Sydnee noticed once Nya’s village began to build the well, a school and a marketplace started to be built as well, with plans for a healthcare center to follow.
“Just having that water makes everything else pretty good in life,” she said.
Hailey has a little sister Nya’s age and cannot imagine her walking for miles to get water, but recognizes somewhere out there, someone’s little sister is doing just that.
“I want people to be able to go to school and have an education instead of having to walk for miles (to get water),” she said.
Hailey also compared American youth who might complain about not getting the latest toy or technology to African youth who are happy just playing soccer with friends.
“We’re really fortunate and hopefully by building a well we can change lives and other people can enjoy their childhood,” she said.
On top of the amount of walking it takes for some people in the world to get water, Rachel commented on the cleanliness of the water they collect, noting the possibility of diseases in the water which can cause death.
“With a well being built in their village, they can have clean water and healthy water,” she said.
“Where there is water, life can grow and if people do not have water, nothing can happen,” Cassia said, commenting on reading an article titled “Water is life.”
While sitting in class working on an assignment on the book, Allex thought to herself someday, she wants to make a difference.
“I don’t really care if I die doing it, I want to make someone’s life better,” she said.
And that is exactly what these students are doing. To donate contact Wilson at 326-2151 or send a check to the WACS Agency Fund and mail it to Westfield Academy and Central School, Attn: Laura Wilson, 203 E. Main St., Westfield, N.Y. 14787.
“You’d be changing someone’s life,” Alaina said. “Just one well in a village can change people’s lives for miles around ’cause other people can come and get water and that means that they can get their friends together and they can build a school and they might even build marketplace and they actually may be able to live what we think of as normally.”
The students and those who receive the wonderful gift of water will thank you.
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