Many of today’s teachers strive to connect what their students are learning in the classroom to the real world, so it’s especially encouraging to them when the students, themselves, take the initiative to apply something they’ve learned in a meaningful way.
This is exactly what happened when four students in one of English teacher Sherri Nichols’ 7th grade classes at Williams Middle School in Rockwall read “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, and were inspired to start a fundraiser to help build a water well in Sudan.
“The book talked about a girl named Nya, who had to walk for two hours from her home to a muddy water hole to get water by digging with her hands and then walk back home, and take that whole trip twice every day just so her family could have water,” one of Nichols’ students, Lauren Clayton said.
“I ended up talking to my mom about it, and I told her that I had the feeling that I should do something to help people who are less fortunate,” Lauren related.
Alison Clayton, Lauren’s mother, who was moved by her daughter’s desire to help people, encouraged her to look into what she could do.
“I just always want to support kids who want to help others,” Clayton said.
Lauren then spoke with some of her classmates, Isaiah Fasnight, Briana Vidaña and Abbie Braden, and Nichols about wanting to “actually do something” to help people in the Sudan have easier access to clean water.
After further research, the four students learned about a charity, which happened to be founded by one of the main characters portrayed in the book they had read, Salva Dut. The organization is called Water for South Sudan, and the students decided to organize a fundraiser with the goal of raising $15,000 to build one water well.
The fundraiser is called the “Iron Giraffe Challenge,” in reference to a Sudanese nickname for the drilling rigs used to create the wells.
“In Sudan, they have to dig about 300 feet to build a well because of the thick layer of sand they have, when wells only have to be about 50 feet deep here in Texas,” Abbie said. “They also don’t have access to the same technology that we have here in America.
“The fact that girls there have to spend all day walking just to get water instead of being in school really bothers me,” Abbie added.
One of the other students in the reading group, Briana, was also moved by the story because it reminded her of stories her father has told her about growing up in rural Mexico.
“My father grew up in Mexico and he had a very hard life,” Briana began. “He told me that he had to take a long walk to get water too, so the story really affected me because of that.”
The fourth member of the group, Isaiah, is excited about promoting the Iron Giraffe challenge fundraiser to the wider community outside of school.
“I really like that we’re doing this, because it’s great to find solutions to problems and not just talk about them,” Isaiah said. “We put the posters up around the school yesterday(Tuesday), but we’ll be looking for support throughout the community.”
Understandably, Nichols, as the students’ teacher, is proud of the initiative they are taking for a humanitarian cause.
“All I did was facilitate this,” Nichols said. “I’m lucky to work at a school that is supportive and allows teachers and students to think and to have opinions. They really allow the kids to explore their world.”
Those wishing to make a donation online to the Williams Middle School students’ fundraiser to build a well in South Sudan can do so at www.classy.org/team/261760, or call the school at 972-771-8313 to make another arrangement.