It's amazing to see how a schoolwide reading assignment can touch the hearts of our youth.
Our students at Gerber School recently read, "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park, thanks to the generosity of employees at Amdocs, who purchased the books. The novel begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985.
The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is a two-hour walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya's in an astonishing and moving way. Park used this book as a platform to support Dut's program, Water for South Sudan.
Through reading the book, our kids learned that in South Sudan, millions of women and children walk for up to eight hours a day to collect water from marshes, ditches, or wells where the water is often contaminated with parasites and bacteria. Our kids couldn't believe that something as simple as clean water wasn't available to everyone and the real-life story made quite an impact on them.
"Our younger students were so moved by the story they felt the need to somehow contribute to this cause in their own way," Melissa, one of our Gerber School social workers, said. "So, together, we have developed our own fundraiser, Gerber Cheetahs Walk for Water, in hopes that we might be able to make a difference."
On March 29th at noon, Gerber students and staff will be walking around the Cunningham campus carrying jugs of water to emulate the struggles faced daily by the people in Sudan. The students are taking donations with the goal of raising more than $1,000 to help build water wells in South Sudan. If our kids reach their goal, they will be placed in a drawing to have Salva Dut, who is now an adult, visit them at school.
"This is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate compassion and for others to demonstrate generosity," Melissa said. "What a wonderful way for our children to see that a small number of people can have a positive impact on the world."
Our youth have been busy promoting their fundraiser throughout campus and a group of them even presented their project at a recent meeting of the Cunningham Board of Directors. With a huge grin on his face, Petey* took several bows as Board members applauded at the conclusion of the presentation.
"Our kids are taking this very seriously and were very prepared for that presentation," Melissa said. "They went over to the Spiritual Life Center the day before and practiced. They were proud to be able to represent the rest of the school."
If you would like to help our kids reach their goal, visit Gerber Cheetahs Walk for Water to make an online donation. To contribute with cash or check, you may mail your donation to Cunningham Children's Home, PO Box 878, Urbana, IL 61803-0878 or stop by the Spiritual Life Center. Please make checks payable to Water for South Sudan. Donations will be accepted through March 29th.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of our youth