For students, classroom novels are typically read, discussed, and oftentimes forgotten. In Mrs. Lauren Myers and Ms. Kaitlynn Seipold’s JMMS Language Arts classes, however, this is not the case while reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Over the last four years, the two teachers and their students raised $5000 for Water for South Sudan to help build a well on January 27, 2020. Inspired by the novel's plot, the students and staff of Joseph Melillo Middle School (JMMS) came together to help an underprivileged community in South Sudan!
The Organization - Mission and Impact
Water for South Sudan (WFSS) was founded in Rochester, New York in 2003 by Salva Dut. The organization works in remote villages in the Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan- which is located in East-Central Africa. Within this region, there are remote villages that have limited access to clean water. Working alongside the local government and community leaders, WFSS aids these areas and helps to build clean and accessible water wells! Ms. Cheri Crist, the Donor Relations and Data Coordinator for WFSS shares the organization's mission statement: “Water for South Sudan delivers life-changing, sustainable, locally-led programs that strengthen individuals, families, communities, and the nation of South Sudan. We drill new wells, rehabilitate old wells, and provide hygiene education to rural and remote villages… to create healthier people and communities.” Each well built takes around three to four days to drill and complete; all wells are completed during WFSS’s ‘drilling season’ from December to June. Up to this day, Water for South Sudan has completed 452 wells for these villages, providing approximately 500-1,000 people per well access to safe and hygienic water.
Joseph Melillo Middle School Involvement
During the 2015-2016 school year, Joseph Melillo Middle School (JMMS) introduced a new novel to the curriculum: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Mrs. Lisa Veleas, East Haven’s English Language Arts Instructional Leader, believes, “[The book] teaches many things including gratitude… and the importance of learning about and understanding others in the world, and empathy and compassion.” The novel is a dual narrative. The main narrator, Salva Dut - founder of WFSS, depicts the boys displaced by the Sudanese War searching for food and water. The second narrator is Nya - a fictional character - represents the women and girls who walk for hours in search of water that is not typically clean. While reading the novel, “The students… were struck by the fact that so many people struggled with obtaining water when they just needed to turn a faucet to get clean water,” Mrs. Lauren Myers, a Language Arts teacher, explains. The story of children the same age as they inspired the students to come together and aid the kids and their community.
Fundraisers and Donation
Water for South Sudan is supported by individuals, businesses, schools, and several organizations throughout the United States. They accept donations of any amount but have specific sponsorship levels as well; sponsors can aid in a full well ($15,000), in a partial sponsorship ($5,000), a rehabbed well sponsorship ($3,000) and hygiene education training ($500). JMMS’ teachers and students decided to partially sponsor a well to help the children described throughout the novel. The 8th-grade students each year started with organizing several fundraising opportunities for the entire school. “Our first fundraising event… was to bring in bottles and cans to be recycled. We made it into a homeroom challenge, and it got quite competitive! I put a poster in the hallway and updated it each week so students could see who was on top,” shares Mrs. Myers. Other fundraisers included: selling reusable water bottles, bake sales, dress down days, and “Baskets for Sudan” - a student and staff basketball competition. In addition to fundraising, each year Mrs. Myers and Ms. Seipold would hold a Zoom meeting with members of the organization in an effort to update and educate the students. After four years, JMMS was able to raise $5,000 and build a well on January 27, 2020. Ms. Crist and the entire WFSS organization is thankful for all the donations they have received and the overall impact the organization and its donors can have. She shares, “Whether communities are small or large, the amount of impact they can have on the lives of others--specifically in South Sudan--is huge. Even the smallest donation makes a difference in communities that lack basic necessities like access to clean water.”
Impact on East Haven
The students and teachers of JMMS have been able to provide a community in South Sudan with accessible water through the creation of a well. Throughout East Haven, the well has come to represent what the community can do when we come together. Mrs. Veleas shares, “We are stronger together than we are as individuals. That is what is so powerful about this.” By coming together, the community can make a difference. “I hope that the well can be a symbol for the EH community to give to others and to be more helpful,” says JMMS Alum, Kayla Vernon. No matter the size of a school or community, if individuals come together and work towards a goal, they can have an impact; they may even be able to build a well of their own! If you would like to learn more information about how to help Water for South Sudan, visit their website: http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org
1. “Our Mission.” Water For South Sudan, www.waterforsouthsudan.org/our-mission.
2. “Water Wells.” Water for South Sudan, www.waterforsouthsudan.org/water-wells.