Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Students at Chevy Chase school work for water a world away

Oneness-Family School middle-schoolers spread a message about drought in Africa

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Middle school students at one Chevy Chase school have been hoping for fresh drinking water for the last two years. Not for themselves, but for people they have never met and most probably never will.

Students at the Oneness-Family School are spreading the word about the need for fresh water in the Azawak region of Niger in West Africa, taking their message to other schools and encouraging other young people to get involved.

‘‘I think it is kind of terrible that people are being neglected by their own government,” said Sophie Haber-Sage, 12, a seventh grader from Washington. ‘‘To bring them water is something I would like to do.”

During a recent assembly at the school, eight seventh- and eighth-grade students presented a slide show and talk about Amman Imman, Water is Life, the international program they are working to promote.

The students were sharing information they first learned in the fall 2006 when Ariane Kirtley, founder of Amman Imman, came to their school to share her vision.

The idea of providing water to the people of the Azawak, considered by some to be the poorest region in the poorest country in Africa, was one the students embraced and started sharing with students at other Montessori schools. In part because of their efforts, 50 other student groups throughout the United States have signed on.

‘‘We took a trip to Florida for a peace conference. We did this presentation for 200 teachers and they got it into their schools,” said Gabrielle Espina, 13, an eighth-grader from Potomac.

This year, five seventh-grade students traveled to Ohio to speak at schools there and they have also been invited to local Montessori and other private schools to share information about Amman Imman.

‘‘The Oneness school’s involvement and partnership with Amman Imman has since been an integral part of our awareness raising and educational program as well as our fundraising campaign on both a national and international level,” wrote Kirtley in an e-mail to The Gazette.

The students are raising funds as well as awareness. Their goal is to raise $200,000, which will provide one borehole, a deep shaft that reaches down to the water in the underground aquifer and can be pumped to the surface with a diesel engine.

Their efforts started small, according to Sarah Nia Coleman, 12, a seventh-grader from Silver Spring.

‘‘We put jugs around the school for change and sold stuff at the school store, like post cards and soap,” she said.

It did not take long for the students to expand their efforts, including the rest of the school in the project and sponsoring A Walk for Water last spring that raised nearly $6,000.

‘‘I raised $400 at the walk last year,” said Dylan Clearfield, a seventh-grader from Bethesda. He hopes to raise even more this year when the walk is held on May 17.

So far, Amman Imman has successfully provided clean water with the first borehole completed in 2007. The students at Oneness-Family School are proud of their part in bringing that dream to reality.

‘‘We have helped about 25,000 people,” Haber-Sage said.

Raising more awareness of the need and more money for the project is a goal she and her classmates agreed they would continue.

They have the full support of their school community.

‘‘The mission of the school is to empower a new generation of leaders who have a global perspective and have the skills to make a difference,” said Andrew Kutt, founder and executive director of the Oneness-Family School. ‘‘Projects like this give students hands on experience effecting change as well as reinforcing the belief that they have the capacity and the power to change the world.”