We have water shortage issues in Cambria. But our children are not walking all day to provide 10 gallons of dirty water to a household. And, at least so far, we aren’t fighting wars over the water contained in the muck of dry lakebeds during the dry season. But the students at Santa Lucia Middle School learned that this is the way of life in South Sudan when they recently read “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park.
This year, Suzanne Kennedy, SLMS librarian, proposed that the whole school read a single book as a way to get every student engaged in a common conversation. Kennedy noted the entire SLMS faculty embraced the idea of a common reading assignment and set about incorporating the book and its lessons into their curriculum.
“A Long Walk to Water” is the story of an 11-year-old Sudanese boy, Salva, who became a refugee in the war between the southern rebels and the northern government forces. In parallel, the book is the story of Nya, a girl whose family job is to carry water to her family’s home, twice each day over several rugged, desert miles.
In the end, Salva immigrated to the United States, where he received an education and founded a nonprofit in conjunction with Rotary International, Water for South Sudan Inc. The purpose of the foundation is to drill wells in the desert of South Sudan. With each well, the foundation also builds a school where children, freed from spending their days carrying water, learn to read and write.
I had a chance to talk with two SLMS students, Mira and Hannah, about the book project. With obvious energy and pride, they described a number of school activities generated by the book. In PE, they set up an obstacle course where students carried jugs of water to get an idea of life in South Sudan. In art, they made paper beads that were strung on African-style necklaces. They watched a video about Salva. And they brainstormed ideas to begin a fundraising campaign to support drilling a well in South Sudan.
As this was going on, the school was invited to send representatives to We Day in San Jose. We Day is sponsored by a 10-year-old organization, Free the Children (covering Canada and the U.S.), dedicated to empowering, educating and inspiring students. To be invited, a school must commit to at least one local and one global action for change. Following attendance at We Day, SLMS engaged a motivational speaker to bring a similar message to the entire campus.
At this point, the fundraising efforts are coming to a conclusion. SLMS allocated proceeds from a school dance to the cause. The students have conducted a coin drive. They auctioned the necklaces they’d made from the paper beads. And most recently, the proceeds from the school’s movie night have gone to the cause.
While they are still tallying the proceeds from their efforts, their goal is to raise $5,000, the cost of a well. With the SLMS name on a village well, every day when young South Sudanese villagers fill their jugs, they will see that Santa Lucia Middle School learned about their needs and cared enough to make a difference. Everyone who lives here knows Cambria is a generous community. The inspired students at SLMS are continuing that tradition.