A Walk to Remember
When Virginia Merideth, aunt of a Sidwell Friends 5th grader, was growing up in Bitam, Gabon and even now when she goes home to visit family, she walks two to three miles, two to three times a day to get water from the community well. She started as a toddler, when she carried a gourd. As she grew, the weight increased; eventually, she was carrying a six-gallon jug. The total load was around 50 pounds.
Each year, the Sidwell Friends 5th graders read Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, based on the true story of Nya, an 11-year-old girl living in Southern Sudan who makes a two-hour walk twice a day to get water for her family. It has become a tradition for the students to then simulate Nya’s journey with a communal “Water Walk,” which involves the class walking from the Middle School into Rock Creek Park. The lesson drives home one of the difficulties some people—particularly girls—have to go through to bring clean water (which often isn’t actually clean) to their communities. Due to distance learning, this year the class of ’27 still carried a gallon of water for one mile, they just had to walk separately; each student participated in an individual “One Gallon, One Mile” Water Walk.
Using the online platform Padlet, students shared their experiences.
“Before the walk, I took for granted the ability that I have to walk down a few steps and get clean and safe water for me to drink,” wrote Roxi.
“When I did the Water Walk, I thought, ‘Hmmm, I would not like to do this every day,’” wrote Jacob. “I then thought, ‘No one should have to go and walk a mile or more with a gallon or more to get water that is not even clean.’”
The exercise culminated in a virtual discussion with Merideth, who answered questions about her real-life experiences. The students asked not only about the trial of getting and carrying the water, but about the particular impact the chore has on girls, as boys tend to stop carrying water around age 13. Merideth’s personal story brought home to the students the real-life experiences of thousands of women across the world.
Lugging a gallon of water—Americans usually use about 70 gallons per person per day—really solidified the lesson.
“My Water Walk taught me that when we have safe water nearby, we don’t think very much about it,” wrote Ardashes . “But we sure do think about it a lot when it takes a lot of work for us to get it.”
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