(Top photo, from left: Abby Hazel, Waterbury Career Academy; Minna Hillock '18, Taft; Nate Rivard, Waterbury's Kennedy High School)
Taft Global Leadership Institute (GLI) Scholar Minna Holleck '18 and Waterbury GLI Scholars Abby Hazel and Nate Rivard joined forces in April to not only raise awareness about the lack of clean water in South Sudan, but to do something about it. The trio hosted a walk at Watertown's Veterans' Park to benefit "Water for South Sudan," a non-profit organization that brings clean, safe water to hundreds of thousands of people in remote South Sudan villages.
"To think about the children and families without access to something so vital for survival is upsetting," said Hazel, a student at Waterbury's Career Academy. "Everyone should have access to clean water."
As a middle school student, Holleck read A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park. The New York Times bestseller shares the true stories of two eleven-year-olds living in Sudan at different points in the nation's history. In 2008, Nya works to secure water for her family by walking two hours each way to a freshwater pond; she makes the trip twice each day. In 1985, Salva becomes one of the "lost boys" of Sudan—refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for safety and shelter.
"I was captivated by and shocked at the conditions described in the book," explained Holleck. "Coming from a fairly sheltered life in Southbury, Connecticut, I never had to worry about where my next meal or drink was coming from. In South Sudan, women and children are walking up to eight hours each day in 100 degree heat just to get a small amount of dirty water."
The story stuck with her, and immediately came to mind when she began thinking about a GLI project.
"I started thinking about the idea of the walk, and thinking about distance," said Holleck. "I thought it would be a meaningful connection to walk 3.7 miles here, as 3.7 miles is the average distance that women and children walk for water in Africa."
Nearly 50 people turned out for the walk, and, to date, Holleck, Hazel, and Rivard have raised more than $1,200 for Water for South Sudan. They will continue to raise money selling hair ties and wristbands on campus. Participants also experienced just a small taste of what it is like for the children of South Sudan, carrying heavy buckets of water at the event, and walking while balancing jugs of water on their heads.
"I think that a lot of people know a little bit about the difficult situation in South Sudan," noted Holleck, "but not enough. The first thought that comes to mind for many is that South Sudan is a famine-stricken and war-filled country, but I think it is important to educate people about the other aspect too—the reality that so many people don't have access to clean water."
The Global Leadership Institute is a competitive and rigorous co-curricular program that brings students from Taft and Waterbury public schools together both in and out of the classroom for shared learning and leadership experiences. The program's mission is to develop a generation of global leaders with a genuine concern for world problems, multiple perspectives on global issues, and the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to worldwide change. The two-year program concludes with culminating projects addressing world issues.
Founded by Salva Dut, the young man whose story was told in A Long Walk to Water, Water for South Sudan drills water wells and provides hygiene. Learn more about Water for South Sudan at waterforsouthsudan.org.