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SDMS students support S. Sudan

By Kara Hallissey | Mar 29, 2018
Photo by: Kara Hallissey For the second year, seventh grade students at Stephen Decatur Middle School are raising money to help build clean water wells in South Sudan.

(March 30, 2018) For the second year, seventh grade students at Stephen Decatur Middle School are raising money to help build clean water wells in South Sudan.

“These kids had no idea,” said Michelle Hammond, a seventh grade teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle School. “They understood people didn’t have water, but they didn’t know it was filthy and carried waterborne diseases. After studying the book [‘A Long Walk to Water’], it became real to them.”

From 7:45 a.m. until school came to a close on Wednesday, more than 400 students and teachers walked in shifts carrying the flag of South Sudan, signs and large jugs of water to bring awareness and show empathy for the struggles people face in South Sudan every day.

“We have stepped it up this year,” Hammond said. “The kids created flags. There [are] a lot more flags and kids carrying water.”

The symbolic charity walk took place in a field outside the school with seventh graders and some eighth graders carrying jugs of water including one that explained how it holds 2.5 gallons and weighs about 20 pounds.

Girls in South Sudan carry twice that amount of weight for hours at a time.

Wendy Ramos, 13, said the initiative was important because the money raised goes to people who do not have clean water in addition to building infrastructure such as hospitals.

“Every day, people in Africa are drinking dirty water and they can get deadly diseases,” said Emma Coyman, 12. “A lot of people die each day.”

Paige Wisniewski, 13, talked about those in South Sudan who contracted Guinea worm disease from drinking contaminated water and the miles young girls have to walk for a resource taken for granted every day.

“We go to our house and get a bottle of water,” said Maya Sbih, 12. “In South Sudan, they walk for miles to drink from a muddy pond.”

Cecilia Uebel, 12, also mentioned how the women of South Sudan “walk over four miles” for water when we are fortunate to have it right in front of us.

“This is an opportunity to give back,” Uebel said.

In 2017, 320 teenagers and teachers helped raise almost $9,000 to help build a well.

“Each well costs $15,000 and we are trying to earn the difference to finish the well,” Hammond said. “Four teachers are collecting money. We needed to raise $6,200 and I think we already surpassed it.”

The inspiration came after reading the novel, “A Long Walk to Water,” by Linda Sue Park and learning about Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and his clean water well initiative.

“We have heard from parents that their children never appreciated what they had and this project has helped them to develop empathy,” Hammond said. “We are so proud of the kids. They are realizing it’s not all about them and there are people in this world not as fortunate.”

Dut was displaced and orphaned along with thousands of other boys during the civil war in South Sudan, which took place from 1983 to 2005. His historic story is profiled in “A Long Walk to Water.”

After relocating to the United States in 1996, Dut founded the nonprofit organization, Water for South Sudan, in 2003, which provides access to fresh water and hygiene education in remote villages of his native land.

He is a dual citizen of America and South Sudan, but spends most of the year in Africa overseeing Water for South Sudan drilling operations.

“Anyone can use the wells and it keeps neighboring tribes from fighting over water,” Hammond said.

To date, Dut has helped fund more than 300 fresh water wells in South Sudan, which gives a quarter of a million people access to safe water, Hammond said.

“If the wells are maintained, they are designed to last 50 years,” Hammond said. “It has been a hard year with the school shootings and this is something that makes kids feel like they are bringing some good back into the world.”

On March 5, a few teachers were guest bartenders at Burley Oak and raised more than $500 toward the cause.

In addition, the water fountains at the middle school in Berlin have short walk to water signs to remind students about the fundraiser and struggles of those living in South Sudan.

The country has been in a bitter ethnic war since December 2013 causing rampant famine, among many other atrocities. More than half of South Sudan’s population could be facing a famine by May, which was a threat to the country around this time last year as well. South Sudan also lacks basic infrastructure and paved roads.

As of Wednesday morning, Stephen Decatur Middle School had raised more than $10,000. It costs $15,000 to sponsor an entire well, which can serve thousands of people with no clean water, Hammond said.

“It is really cool we started it and now are finishing it,” Hammond said. “It is a huge project. So many businesses and families have made donations.”

If students raise the $15,000 to build a well, the nonprofit can construct an entire well and “Stephen Decatur Middle School” will be inscribed into the concrete, Hammond said.

“They take a picture with the flag and inscribed well [in South Sudan],” she said.

In addition, raising funds could earn the school a visit from Dut or a Skype call from him or Park.

“Last year, a school raised $15,000,” Hammond said. “There are over 200 schools in it this year.”

To donate, contact Hammond at mmhammond@mail.worcester.k12.md.us. The deadline to make a donation is April 3. For more information on Dut and his cause or to donate, visit www.waterforsouthsudan.org.

Donations can also be mailed to Stephen Decatur Middle School at 9815 Seahawk Road, Berlin, Maryland 21811.

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