On May 15 at 10 a.m. on the Ovid campus of South Seneca Central Schools several students will be taking a walk. This will not be a stroll for leisure or exercise, but a symbolic walk to express solidarity with children in sub-Saharan Africa who have to walk up to 20 miles a day to find uncontaminated water.
"The students wanted to do the whole six to 10 miles," said middle school teacher Gertrude Shaffer, who with Breana Copp, organizes the Distance Learning program at South Seneca, "but I talked them out of it. They'll just be walking one mile." For the South Seneca students to walk as far as their sub Saharan peers, they would have to walk from Ovid to Lodi and back again, a distance of 8 miles, or even from Ovid to Interlaken, a round trip of 18 miles. In Africa young girls do most of the water carrying. The constant demand for water and the amount of time it takes to get enough keeps the girls from getting an education.
"If Trumansburg or any other school wants to do this, they can," said Shaffer. "It doesn't even have to be on the same dates." And students or teachers who are interested may contact Shaffer at South Seneca Middle School. "I can tell anyone how to set up the event. They are also welcome to come to Ovid," she said.
Students will be collecting donations from sponsors; anyone donating $30 or more will also get a free T-shirt. The money raised by this event will go toward the cost of surveying and drilling a well in Juba, Sudan. "We have a contract with a drilling company in Juba," Shaffer said. "The money will be funneled through an NGO [non-governmental organization]. It took a year to figure this out. Juba is becoming more organized, but there is still a lot of corruption." The survey will cost $9,500 and the actual installation of the pump will cost $2,500.
Shaffer hopes that her students raise about $2,000 at the local Walk for Water event. "We'll see if the NGO will want a partial donation," the middle-school teacher said. "We are doing this with another school in northwest Canada. We'll pool the money." Shaffer's Distance Learners have video-conferenced with their Canadian peers in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shaffer met a group of Yellowknife teachers at the United Nations on one of the trips she regularly takes with her students.
Jody Kennedy, a teacher in White Plains, N.Y., introduced Shaffer to the idea of raising money through walking. "She did a lot of traveling to talk to Rotarians," Shaffer said of Kennedy. Rotary International has been instrumental in identifying projects that students raise money for. "She sent away for free pedometers and her students walked 2,500 miles. Local businesses contributed $2,500 and the Rotarians matched it."
According to Shaffer, in 2008 at South Seneca students raised $5,000 for a project in Uganda and a similar amount for another project in 2009. This year Breana Copp designed and produced a poster for the event at the school's poster making facility. This past week a request for sponsorships drew 10 immediate responses.
Shaffer described one of the health problems that result from drinking contaminated water. "President Carter is on a global campaign against Guinea worms," the Distance Learning teacher said. Juba in the Sudan, where Shaffer and her students are sending money for a well, is one of the latest stops on Carter's world tour. Carter is urging people to filter their water before they drink it. "The larvae are in contaminated water. They get to be three yards long; it can be really debilitating. They start to poke out of blisters; you can actually pull them out."