Students stepping into a freshman English class usually expect to read a few books and maybe learn how to write a better essay. What they don’t expect is to be inspired to start service projects or become advocates for people halfway around the world. Yet ninth graders in Jessica Juska’s class find themselves doing all of the above.
After reading Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, which connects the true story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan with the fictional story of a Sudanese girl who walks two hours to a pond to collect water twice a day, Juska’s class got to work.
“After reading the book,” Rory Charbonneau explained, “we recognized the injustice and wanted to do something about it.” After a lot of deliberation, which included fundraising ideas like a Polar Plunge or building an ice rink, girls in the class decided on something much more symbolic: Girls Walk for Water.
On April 12th, the nine girls in Juska’s freshman Honors English class will forgo classes to walk the track. Their six-hour long walk will symbolize Sudanese girls’ journey to get water twice a day. Students will walk an hour and a half with empty jugs, an hour and a half with full jugs, and then repeat.
“My heartbeat as a teacher is to design experiences that allow students to start to discover their own self-worth. The best way to do that is to see yourself as valuable to others,” Juska explained. “We use books to travel the world and encounter the world’s most vulnerable people who are experiencing injustice on a scale that we’re just not used to. When we encounter characters who are moving through these conflicts and injustices, we oftentimes find that we develop empathy for them and it’s our empathy that ignites a passion to serve and to help respond to the injustice that the characters are facing.”
While the walk symbolizes the journey of girls in South Sudan who miss school every day, students also hope to raise awareness about the lack of uncontaminated drinking water in South Sudan and to raise money to sponsor a well there.
Water for South Sudan, a non-profit founded by Salva Dut — the Lost Boy featured in the book — holds an annual Iron Giraffe Challenge which encourages schools to raise $1,000 towards the digging of a well in South Sudan. Schools that raise $5,000 get a partial well sponsorship and schools that raise $15,000 receive full sponsorship of a well. Juska’s students are working to have Brewster High School fully sponsor a well.
“A well in the village would prevent girls from having to walk instead of going to school to get water,” said Alicia Eder. “It would also provide clean water so fewer people would become sick.”
The girls are combining their efforts with other students in the class who have raised money in other ways. A group of boys hosted a bake sale at Kobackers and raised $340. Other students participated in street performances with their instruments, raising $80. There was also a fundraiser at Peachwave which earned $100 and a movie screening at Empire Cinemas which earned an additional $200.
“They’ve all been involved in some form of service,” Juska said of her class, which has raised over $5,000 so far. “Whether it was just the planning stage and nothing came to fruition or they actually executed their projects. This has been our heartbeat for a while in this classroom.”
The Girls Walk for Water team is currently recognized on the Water for South Sudan fundraising website as the team with the most donors. The students are hoping to raise their numbers as the walk draws nearer and have begun calling on local businesses and organizations to sponsor their team. Recently, the Rotary of Southeast, which has a mission to bring clean water to every country in the world, invited the girls to their dinner to speak about their project. Afterward, the Rotary very generously donated $1,000.
“It’s nice to see the community’s support,” Juska said.
While the students are ecstatic about the money they have raised thus far, it’s about more than that for them.
“A lot of times we take advantage of what we have, such as clean water or education, that these girls in South Sudan don’t get,” said Grace Galgano. “We really wanted to focus our project on being symbolic of that and trying to put ourselves in their shoes so that we can better understand what they’re going through and try to help. It’s not just raising money for them. It’s about raising money and learning about what they go through.”
“It’s going to be interesting that day when I only have male students in my class,” Juska added. “It will be very symbolic for the men in the class as well.”
To support this class’s collaborative efforts and help them persevere as they fulfill their civic responsibility (all of which are skills included in Brewster’s Strategic Coherence Plan), you can donate to their team by visiting: http://bit.ly/GirlsWalkforWater.