by Doug McClure
HARDWICK/GREENSBORO – After a COVID-induced hiatus in 2020, Hazen Union students again did a “Long Walk to Water” fundraiser last week. This year’s was increased in scale over previous years and, in a welcome change from 2019, the weather held in the mid-to-upper 60s with a little drizzle.
The idea behind the walk originated three years ago. Middle school teacher Kelly Robinson’s seventh-grade class read Linda Sue Park’s book, “A Long Walk to Water,” in 2018. It details the real-life story of eleven-year-old Salva Dut, who fled his village during the civil war and became one of many “lost boys” of South Sudan.
After a dozen years of wandering around South Sudan, in and out of refugee camps, Dut brought about 150 other boys to safety in Kenya. He then made his way to the U.S., where he began a project called Water for South Sudan, with the goal of addressing that region’s critical lack of clean water.
Students in Robinson’s class were moved by the story and began a fundraiser to help. The cornerpiece of that fundraiser would be the seventh-grade class’ own “long walk to water” from Hazen Union to Caspian Lake. The ten-mile journey is intended to mirror the two-hour walk a character in the book needed to make to get clean water.
In the intervening years, Hazen Union has combined the middle school grades into one and puts students into “houses,” which in this year’s case, are Pinnacle House and Summit House. Robinson explained that “developmentally, there’s a little difference between seventh and eighth graders, but not a lot. We have seventh graders who could be doing freshman-level work. We’re trying to kind of get out of that [division of grades].” As a result, instead of the roughly thirty seventh-graders who took part in 2019’s walk, this year’s had between ninety and a hundred students from both houses. The walk is slated to take place every two years, so students don’t repeat it.
The students hope to raise $5,000, which is a partial sponsorship for a well. Robinson described Water for South Sudan as “a really incredible organization to fund-raise for.” She said the hope this year was to get T-shirts for the students to wear on the walk, but the supply chain was in too much disarray. So, the organization donated leftover shirts from previous years.
Robinson was quick to credit the continued support from parents, who not only baked cookies and brownies, but kept a caravan alongside the walking students just in case students needed a break.
Several students commented on the experience. Summit House has not yet finished the book and but Pinnacle House has.
Pinnacle House’s Morgan Michaud said “these guys walk ten miles, but they were carrying gallons of water. And we didn’t even carry anything except for maybe a water bottle. It was exhausting.”
Seville Murphy of Summit House said “I have appreciation now for how easily we can get water.”
Zeke Wohlberg, also of Summit House, said “It’s really crazy far they had to walk, and it’s great that we’re getting a new well for them.”
Summit House’s T.J. Hubbell said “I had a lot of fun, and I would do it again” and said that learning that people in the book had to go through this walk to get water was important to them.
Some students were more succinct. Caitlyn Langmaid of Pinnacle House said “It was very painful,” before adding “it was hard for Salva and other people to walk more than ten miles a day every day.”
Sully Laflam echoed Caitlyn’s comment about the walk being painful. Principal Jason Di Giulio said “I am fiercely proud of the Wildcat spirit demonstrated by middle school youth today. They took on a serious challenge — a 10 mile walk to water— and persevered. I saw youth helping youth. I saw youth including everyone in the fun and supports. I saw youth developing their humanity, and learning to act with compassion. I cannot be more proud of what these students accomplished after studying a worldly topic.”
Robinson said another possible project the school is looking into for the future is through the organization True Africa which “connects kid-to-kid through technology, and through photos and letters. That is more of a personal thing where a kid might need a mattress, or want a certain book, and so our kids would work to provide that thing to that kid.” Watchdog Charity Navigator ranks Water for South Sudan 96.49 out of 100, with a rating of 95 for financial management and 100 for transparency. It also ranked the organization as 100 for impact and results. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made at classy.org/team/384211.