How does it feel to walk three miles-lugging a jug of water?
Seventh graders at Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) wanted to know. They had learned that, in South Sudan, villagers often must walk more than three miles, sometimes several times a day, just to get clean water-leaving little time for education.
To help, the class is raising money toward building a well in South Sudan. They started with a walkathon during Succot, symbolically recreating the South Sudanese experience by walking more than three miles carrying water jugs.
The story caught the ear of WBEZ 91.5, whose Jerome McDonnell interviewed students Lilly Cope, Isabelle Goldberg, and Noam Wolkenfeld on air.
Their former sixth grade teacher, Lindsay Teeples-Mitchell, listened to the broadcast with pride. She had introduced the students to A Long Walk to Water , written by Linda Sue Park. The novel tells the story of Nya, an 11-year-old girl who must walk over three miles twice a day for water.
The money the students raise will fund Water for South Sudan, founded by South Sudanese native Salva Dut, whose childhood flight from Sudanese civil war is also recounted in the book.
Teeples-Mitchell, who has since moved to Japan, wrote that she "woke up at 2:20 in the morning to listen to their interview and was filled to the brim with pride."
Rachel Pickus, the director of the middle school and the class' current seventh grade teacher, and Tamar Cytryn, director of Jewish Studies and Campus Life, picked up the project's baton.
The class hopes to raise $5,000, enough for one-third of the cost to create a well. At press time, the students had raised almost $2,400.
Seventh grader Noam Heinreich noted, "It's not fair that we have access to a water fountain and they have to walk for miles."
After filling empty jugs they'd brought from home, the students set out on their hike. Each gallon weighed some eight and a half pounds; the students carried them by hand or in backpacks.
"We did this project to make others' lives easier," said student Toren Strauss. "People don't have clean water, and we're people who can help change that."
They marched from their school, near the corner of Addison and California, along Horner Park. Along the way, they spontaneously devised a chant: "We have really got to fight! Water is a human right!"
They turned east and walked around Welles Park, where they rested for a moment to discuss what they had learned.
"Carrying that water hurt so much," said student Isabelle Rosenberg. "But it helps me feel what those young girls feel."
Arriving back at school, the students were welcomed by their cheering friends. Student Evan Cohen agreed that the walk helped him appreciate the situation of those in South Sudan-and his own: "I'm going to be more thankful after drinking water," he said. "I understand a little how they feel."
To donate to the Walk for Water effort through CJDS, make out a check to the school with "Water Walk" written on the memo line, or give directly to Water for South Sudan waterforsouthsudan.org, noting Chicago Jewish Day School.