November 24, 2014

Helping Change the World, One Drop at a Time

Turning the tide of global poverty and environmental degradation is going to take visionary leadership, fresh ideas, commitment and resolve. As the director of WaterCan, a registered Canadian water charity, it gives me great hope to witness the thirst that today’s students have for global knowledge and meaningful engagement opportunities. Students at Canada’s independent schools have, over WaterCan’s 23-year history, made a significant contribution to our charity’s vision: Clean Water for All!

Be A Water Warrior - WaterCan

Students at York House School in Vancouver, for example, raised over $8,800 in support of the Clean Water for Bachoo District Project in Ethiopia this past academic year. As part of their school initiative, 250 students and teachers participated in a walk-a-thon in May 2010 which was sponsored by their families, friends and community. Students learned that donations of $25 provided clean water and sanitation for one person for life. Put into perspective, that’s about as much as a Canadian student might spend on a night out at the movies. Student organizers further strengthened the connection to the cause by adding water stations along the walk-a-thon course. Despite the cloudy weather, students were excited to be part of the initiative.

Abby Nann, the student leading the fundraising challenge at York House School, stresses that having access to clean drinking water strengthens communities through sustainable livelihoods, and that sanitation and hygiene facilities further improve health and well-being. “This is why I chose to nominate WaterCan for my school to sponsor. I support the initiative that WaterCan is taking to develop small-scale projects, which not only bring aid (clean water supply and sanitation etc.) to communities, but also involve and educate members of these communities, encouraging and enabling them to help themselves, thus creating positive long-term and sustainable projects.”

Gaining and Spreading Awareness About Global Crisis

For students like Abby, this was more than a fundraising effort, it was a chance to gain and spread awareness about a global crisis affecting millions and to actively participate in initiatives that provide real solutions. Abby is one of many students who feel that their enviable access to clean water is taken for granted, which leads to waste and overabundant use. “Through the work of WaterCan, those who are not yet able to feel entitled to clean water can begin to have access to it,” she writes. “And those of us who take for granted our access to clean water are reminded of its importance, and of the unequal access to this precious resource between the world’s population . . . This will hopefully lead us to be more water-wise and inspire us to help more people have equal access to clean water.”

Worldwide, nearly 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. A further 2.6 billion have no basic sanitation, like toilets and latrines. This constitutes one of the most lethal, yet solvable, public health emergencies affecting the developing world today. The lack of safe water and adequate sanitation is the world’s largest cause of sickness. Diarrhea, alone, kills 1.5 million children under the age of 5 each year – more than AIDS, measles and malaria combined.

Efforts by the students at York House School and many other Independent schools across Canada are making a real difference in the fight against global poverty. The small-scale, community-driven projects that they support are helping to break the cycle of poverty and disease and increase opportunities for health, education, gender equality and economic growth.

The donation made by York House was matched 3:1 by the Canadian International Development Agency, and when combined with the contributions of several other participating schools, allowed WaterCan to dig four borehole wells in rural Bachoo District Ethiopia.

We commend the selfless actions, compassion and critical thinking demonstrated by Abby and her peers at York House School. Together, one drop at a time, one well at a time, they have left a legacy of health and development in a country far from our own. Yes, this does reaffirm my belief that the future truly does need our children’s leadership and courage.

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How has your school taught students to be engaged in their local and global communities? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.

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About Gary H.J. Pluim

Gary H.J. Pluim is the executive director of WaterCan, a registered Canadian charity. WaterCan’s international water and sanitation projects have reached more than 1.2 million people worldwide.

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