By Sandy Rigas
Students, faculty and staff from Immaculate Conception School bundled up on a chilly Wednesday afternoon for a mile long walk through the village. Nothing unusual about that, right?
That walk, that day, had a distinct purpose in mind which was not for recreation, exercise, and fresh air. It was the ICS Water Walk for Uganda, the culmination of a month-long project learning about water poverty in Uganda, what can be done to alleviate it, and what they at Immaculate Conception School could do to help children like them on a different continent.
Children who live daily without a clean water source, without the “luxury” of clean running water piped into their homes. Girls, and some boys, who cannot attend school regularly if at all, because they are the water collector and carrier for their family’s daily needs. Children, and adults, who become ill and often die from water borne diseases.
During the past month, they have been asking for pledges and donations for the Ugandan Water Project.org. with a goal of raising $3,600 to fund one school, in one village, with a rainwater collections system tank and filter. With clean water accessible to the village at the school, the hours spent daily collecting water will be reduced significantly. Families will be able to bring the jerrycans right to the school which is centrally located in the village, thus eliminating the long walks to and from the water source.
“One collection tank and filtration system will provide clean water for 250 people for 30 years!” Alinaitwe said. “It also provides jobs maintaining the system. It’s a life-changing piece of technology.”
The benefits multiply. Children can attend school. There is less absence due to water-borne disease, less sickness and death.
To the beat of Ugandan music playing on a boom box, the younger students carried and waved small flags while the older students each carried a one-gallon jug of water drawn from the school’s utility closet, while they walked the mile loop from the Maple Avenue school, through downtown Wellsville. Shaye Reagan, the liaison between ICS and Alinaitwe of the Ugandan Water Project, led the walk, encouraging students to support each other if they got tired.
Children, mostly girls, who are the family water carriers, are also the water gatherers. “A typical day gathering and carrying water is an all-day process. It’s a full-time job,” said Jess Alinwaitwe of the Ugandan Water Project.
How can this be? First, there’s the walk to a source of water, which could be an hour or two. Next, there is the scooping and digging to collect the water, to wait while it seeps into the sludge, and to fill the jerrycan (which holds much more than a gallon). This could take an hour. Then there’s the walk back home with the water, which takes longer because the walk back is uphill, and the water can is heavier. Once the water is home it must be boiled and then allowed to cool for three hours. Often, two trips a day need to be made to collect enough water for the family’s daily needs.
While the ICS students were not lined along the banks of the Genesee River collecting water, walking in the baking sun in high temperatures, and were not walking barefoot over rocks and thorns, walking a mile while carrying a water jug did give them some sense of what it would be like to live where this was your life.
After the return to the school, Fifth and Sixth Grade wrote about what they have learned during this project and from participating in the Water Walk. Many of the students noted that it, “must be really hard to carry that much water and that carrying one gallon was hard enough.”
Some of the students, in a previous Gratitude essay, had remarked that they were grateful to have clean running water in their homes. Without access to clean water, “the water they drink is filthy, and has mud, animal waste and dirt. It is so much different from the water we drink,” said Fifth-Grader Celeste Sherwood.
“Now I know what it feels like to walk for water. And it doesn’t feel good. We reached our (funding) goal for the water tank. The kids in the school that we’re donating to must be very excited,” said Fifth Grade classmate Darrell Ueblacker.
“I am happy that our school is helping kids in Uganda, “added Fifth-Grader Hazel Freeman. “The walk was tiring, but fun. It would not be fun if you had to do it every day. I would rather go to school.”