Watching a video of kids at a South Africa school pulling a basketball out of a sewer, wiping it off on their shirts and playing with it was enough to shock seventh-grade student Haley Mech.
What hit home for Liv Conklin is that kids her age in a South Africa town spend hours a day carrying jugs of water from a well to their houses--and that girls often have to quit school because of the lack of clean water and hygiene.
After learning that one billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, the girls, and their seventh-grade class at Niles' , spent Thursday walking laps to fundraise for clean water and sanitation for a school in a town named Khumbulani.
"We're walking for kids in South Africa. We have a partner school. They have bad sanitation," said Peyton Turner, who was lugging a two-liter bottle of water in the heat as an act of solidarity with the kids at Khumbulani School.
Doug Florence, their social studies teacher, said the students read a book about civil war in Sudan, in which characters had to spend hours every day walking to a water source. After Florence learned of a non-profit, H2O For Life, which partners with U.S. schools to provide wells or water sources and sanitation to schools in developing nations, the idea for the fundraiser was born.
"The kids are very enthusiastic," Florence said. "I think they've become aware of something we take for granted, clean water, and they realize not everybody has that.
"There are one billion people in the world who don't have access to clean water."
The Emerson seventh-graders were also struck by the fact that many girls stop going to school once they hit puberty, he said, because schools in many developing nations don't have bathrooms--and consequently no place for them to maintain hygiene once they start getting their periods.
The Khumbulani school has a bore hole--a crude well made by boring a hole into the ground--but it often dries up in the dry season, Florence said. The water in the bore hole is not connected to the restroom at the school. And it has one more problem--it's at the bottom of a hill, meaning mud and debris wash into it during the rainy season.
The $2,250 the Emerson students raised will be matched by an H20 For Life sponsor, and that money will be used to hook up water from the bore hole to the school's restroom, in order to provide water for hand-washing and to create flush toilets. A retaining wall around the bore hole will also be built to keep the mud and debris out, and chlorine will be used to sanitize the water in the bore hole.
The social studies lesson on lack of access to water tied into other lessons around the theme of water. Science teacher Cathy Murges has been teaching about rivers and water from a science standpoint, and the students recently took a field trip to examine micro-invertebrates which live at the bottom of the Chicago River.
"Since we do an Africa unit in seventh grade social studies and in science they do a water unit, we thought it was a natural curricular fit," Florence said.