It’s been nearly three years since Tamara Hanson ran the idea of raising money to dig a well in South Sudan past her middle school students. At the time, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. Now, she could tell you exactly what it’s like to spearhead efforts to collect $15,000 alongside middle schoolers.
“It’s exhausting,” Hanson says. Not that she’s complaining though. “It’s probably one of the most powerful things I’ve ever done in my classroom.”
It’s been a powerful experience for students too – all 900 of them over the three-year fundraising period. Together, they have sold water bottles, delivered candy-grams and organized auctions, all in the hopes of bringing clean water to families half the world away.
Bringing Water to South Sudan
The project can trace its roots back to a conversation between Hanson and Lucinda Ambs. Both were 7th grade social studies teachers in 2015, but Ambs also taught ELA (English Language Arts). “She’s the one who told me about the book,” Hanson says.
The book is A Long Walk to Water. It centers on Salva Dut, and his real-life story about the struggles many people endure in find clean drinking water. Dut has founded a non-profit, Water for South Sudan, that works with groups wishing to help dig wells for communities without access to water.
Rather than just talk about the problem, Lowell Middle School students decided to do something about it. They decided to raise the $15,000 needed to drill a well in South Sudan, and the Lowell Rotary Club was quick to pledge $5,000 to the cause.
One year ago, the kids hit the $10,000 mark and thanks to a recent anonymous donation, students just found out they had broken $15,000. A well will be dug in South Sudan this spring, and it will be dug thanks to the commitment of the approximately 900 middle school students who have passed through the 7th grade social studies classes since 2015.
Surreal Ending to a Long Project
After three years of collecting cans and raising funds, Hanson says it’s a bit surreal to be done with the project. She notes students in the current freshmen class at the high school seem most proud of the achievement, likely because they have been a part of this from the beginning.
However, Hanson sees the benefit of the project extending beyond a sense of personal pride. “I really feel like it’s opened their world a little bit,” she says. Taking a drink from the school fountain takes on new meaning when you realize someone in another country may be walking hours just to get a bucket of water for their family.
What’s more, the project has encouraged kids to be creative and entrepreneurial. Kyle Carhart, who teaches social studies along with Hanson now that Ambs is focused on ELA, ran a Shark Tank-styled activity for students to brainstorm various ideas. Among other things, his students designed a t-shirt and sold water bottles at lunch. They also collected cans and coins and competed with their classmates to see who could raise the most.
The coin jars may be put away now, but Hanson hopes students will walk away with memories to last a lifetime. Even if they don’t, a community in South Sudan will be getting a well in a few months and those families, without a doubt, will never forget the generosity of these hundreds of kids and their dedicated teachers.