Janice Lear's eighth-grade students listened recently as the geography teacher read a book that opened their eyes to the challenges children around the world face just to get clean water.
"The kids were so moved by it," Lear said. "I remember them saying, 'Ms. Lear, this is not OK. What can we do?' "
To that end, eighth graders at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Chester County, have raised more than $4,800 so far to build a well for a school in Uganda and a water-filtration system and hand-washing station for a school in the Dominican Republic.
Patton's original goal was $2,500. What started as a small service-learning project for a few classes spread to the rest of the more than 300 eighth graders at Patton.
Students have planned a "Walk for Water" at the school Saturday to raise more money and awareness about global clean water shortages to mark World Water Day, which is Sunday. The school has partnered with H2O for Life, a Minnesota-based organization that connects schools across the United States to schools in other countries that need funding to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
Groups at 12 schools in Pennsylvania and six in New Jersey are raising money through H2O for Life. Among the Pennsylvania schools are Abington High School, Cheltenham High School, the Haverford School, Germantown Friends School, and Northeast High School. In New Jersey, Bret Harte Elementary School in Cherry Hill is participating.
Last year, about 135 schools nationwide participated in projects around the world. The program is on track to include about 150 U.S. schools this year.
At Patton, students, their families, and community members are scheduled to participate in the "Walk for Water" starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. They expect to walk five kilometers, the average distance people in developing countries must travel for clean water, according to H2O for Life.
Students plan to carry gallon jugs of water to show solidarity with those people.
"Charles Patton has really gone the extra mile," said Steve Hall, the H2O for Life director of school programs. "It's amazing what kids can do. I don't think we realize how capable they are and how willing they are to step up and do what they can."
Students taking Lear's Human Geography class learned about the urgent need for clean water around the world a few months ago through A L,ong Walk to Water, a book H2O for Life also recommends for students.
The book tells of the struggles of two 11-year-old Sudanese children. The boy is a refugee who fights to survive; the girl cannot go to school because she has to walk for hours to get water for her family. It is loosely based on a true story.
"Knowing there is a water fountain right outside the classroom 60 feet away from us, and these kids have to walk miles and miles for water that might not even be clean, that just really impacted me," Carter Avayou, 14, said.
The students learned the importance of clean water, hygiene, and sanitation to communities' health and way of life.
They hope their fund-raiser becomes an annual event and goes beyond the school and into the community, 14-year-old Tommy Kelly said. "We want to open other people's eyes to show them what the problem is, and hopefully people will join in and make it into more," the eighth grader said.
Donations can be made by searching for Patton Middle School at H2Oforlifeschools.org.
Contributions from nongovernmental organizations will double the donations the students collect, according to H2O for Life.
"It's been a great lesson in how you can change the world," Lear said of her students. "They are changing the lives of people."