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On March 18, the Salida Middle School Sixth Grade class gathered at the river in downtown Salida to participate in a special water walk event. The students had read the novel A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park that blends the true story of Salva Dut woven with the fictional story of Nya, a young village girl that was part of the Nuer tribe.

The story is based in 1985, when Dut was part of the Dinka tribe as well as one of the Sudanese Lost Boys. Park uses the book as a platform to support Dut’s organization called Water for South Sudan.

Students filling up their five-gallon buckets in the Arkansas River. Photo by Brooke Gilmore.

Girls and women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water due to a lack of running water and modern conveniences. Lack of clean water is a critical need in many parts of the world.

After reading the novel in Michael Lamond’s English class, the Salida students were tasked with carrying five-gallon jugs from the Arkansas River, up to the hut at the top of Tenderfoot (S) Mountain, and back down. The Students began this endeavor around 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning, some using sticks to help with the carry, and teams of students took turns carrying the water uphill.

Parents and teachers were stationed throughout the trail to cheer on the kids and keep them on track. In the parking lot at the base of Tenderfoot Mountain, parents waited to pass out snacks and water to students. After a short break, the kids continued up the mountain.

Each team took a pledge to reach the hut. Not only does this event place students in an interactive experience, but it is also helped raise money to refurbish a well in South Sudan.

The goal was set to raise $3,000 toward the well water project. But as of the morning of March 18, the student effort had raised almost $7,000 in funds and the portal is still open. According to the fundraising website, because the school fundraising has far exceeded their goal, their name will be written in the concrete of the well that is being refurbished.

Students at the halfway mark. Photo by Brooke Gilmore.

Students acknowledged that taking the water up the mountain was a lot of hard work but that raising awareness for what people in South Sudan have to do every day was valuable. Many also acknowledged that living this experience is much different than just reading it and how it had changed their perspectives.

Lamond is a new teacher at Salida Middle School this year. He says he has put on this water awareness event at previous schools.

When asked why he explained, “With the novel long walk to water, a lot of schools do this as kind of a culminating project. Kids in South Sudan, younger than our sixth graders do this on a daily basis, twice a day. So, we wanted to give our students just a taste, a feel for what kids around the world have to do and give them appreciation.”

He continued “We were born here; we have this opportunity that they don’t have so we make what we do in school that much more meaningful. It starts changing their behaviors, they’ve shortened their showers, they’re more cognizant of how they use water and how they have wasted water. It’s just a great literal hands-on project for them to feel it.”

The first team to complete the walk was a group of three boys, Seth Sutton, Oliver Monroe, and Lev Wolenbreit, who finished with a time of one hour and 40 minutes. They then dumped the water back into the river.

Spirits were high during the entirety of the walk and even though many students said they were tired, the general consensus was that it was a fun hands-on day.

After everyone finished the walk and returned their water back into the Arkansas River,  the sixth graders gathered in Riverside Park to eat their lunch. They then headed to Alpine Park for recess. For their efforts, the kids got to duct tape Lamond to a wall and throw a pie in his face.

To donate to their fundraiser, click here.

Featured image: Seth Sutton, Oliver Monroe and Lev Wolenbreit were the first of the grade to finish the walk. Photo by Brooke Gilmore.