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Brianna Disbrow, an eighth-grader at Berkeley Middle School in Williamsburg, knows how fortunate she is to have clean drinking water when she turns on the faucet.
She also knows the impact Williamsburg residents can have on a far-away community with limited access to clean water, such as a village in South Sudan, if they donate to the construction of a well.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t (donate),” Disbrow said. “It makes a tremendous impact and makes people happy.”
Disbrow and her classmates in teacher Shari Vandygriff’s English class have organized a fundraiser for Water for South Sudan, a New York-based nonprofit that drills wells in South Sudan, where access to water is reduced during the dry season between November and May.
The class has set a goal of raising $5,000, which would allow them to sponsor the construction of a well. So far the students have raised $315 via a GoFundMe campaign called “BMS Hope2Our Sudan Well Project.” The fundraiser will end June 10.
Reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park inspired the students to start the fundraiser. The novel combines the true story of Salva Dut, a boy who fled the civil war in Sudan in the early 1990s and resettled in the United States, and the fictional tale of Nya, a village girl living in present-day South Sudan who must walk for a half a day to collect water.
Isaiah Moore, a student teacher in Vandygriff’s class, selected the book for the class’s nonfiction unit because he wanted the students to read a book he enjoyed and one that could be a tool to teach them about social justice.
The students were so engaged while reading in class that he had to urge them not to read ahead, Moore said.
For a class project, Moore asked the students to create pamphlets, commercials or public service announcements to promote the issue of water accessibility in South Sudan.
Finally, he pitched a small-scale fundraiser as a response to the issue. But the students wanted to do more and rallied around the well campaign.
The class effort was reinforced Wednesday by a presentation by Angelo Maker. Maker is a Sudanese man who, like Salva, fled during his country’s civil war and resettled in the United States. He spoke to Vandygriff’s class about his experiences as a “Lost Boy” in Sudan and an immigrant in America.
Maker, who founded a secondary school in Rumbek, South Sudan called Abukloi, said some women in South Sudan walk for hours to obtain water for their families. A well would eliminate that travel and would have a ripple effect on irrigation, education, health care and the local economy.
It’s important that students get involved in international issues, Maker said, noting that “we all have to do our part,” even in Williamsburg, to make a difference.
“[Students], tell the community, ‘Let’s come together,’ rather than say, ‘We’re just here,’ ” Maker said.
Eighth-grader Rory Meadows has been told before that she can make a difference, but she said that message was different coming from Maker. “A lot of people say that to us, but hearing a really good example of that really inspired me,” Meadows said.
Andrew Ramos, also an eighth-grader, hadn’t thought about the issue of water accessibility before reading the book. “If it weren’t for Mr. Moore having us read the book, water in Sudan would have been one of the last things I would have thought of,” he said.
Maker’s visit made the book “real” for her students and gave them a new enthusiasm for their fundraising project, Vandygriff said.
“As a classroom teacher, I see this as learning at its best,” she said. “My hope is students will be inspired to continue as active participants in their community and appreciate the value of helping others.”