Truman Greissel is a cross country runner, so he’s no stranger to running miles over difficult terrain. The seventh-grader, however, is not used to carrying 16 pounds of added weight when he runs.
Greissel was one of 480 Ozark Middle School students who took part in “Walk for Water,” an event devised to simulate the conditions that girls who live in villages in South Sudan go through in order to collect drinkable water for their families to use every day. Greissel started the long walk with two gallons of water, but lost a gallon about midway through the exercise.
“When I tried to switch hands, I dropped one, so I ended up finishing with one,” Griessel said. “It was more difficult than I thought it would be.”
Griessel learned firsthand how heavy 16 pounds of water can become.
“Both of my forearms were burning, so I couldn’t switch. It was just difficult to keep a steady pace,” Griessel said.
Seventh grade social studies teacher Megan Taylor coordinated the Walk for Water, a teaching project and a benefit for Water for South Sudan.
“The average girl walks 3.7 miles, or 6 kilometers, to get water in Africa, and then they have to turn around and walk it back. So we’re walking half the distance trying to carry either one or two gallons of water to get an idea of what that is like for most of those girls that have to do that—most of them twice a day, and they’re carrying somewhere between 22 and 33 pounds of water,” Taylor said.
Many of the students prepared for the walk by reading “A Long Walk to Water,” a novel that includes the real life story of Salva Dut. Dut became separated from his family as an 11-year-old boy during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Dut later emigrated to the United States as a refugee. He now helps construct water wells in Sudanese villages.
The Ozark students raised about $4,300 to donate to Water for South Sudan before their walk.
“$5,000 will build a well,” Taylor said.
“We have clean water and they don’t. They have to walk a lot. It’s really important to maybe not waste as much water as we do,” Griessel said.
Kimber Surface, also a runner, opted to carry one gallon, switching hands frequently and even trying to carry the water on her on her back.
“I run a lot, but it’s definitely more difficult to do it with water,” Surface said. “It just kind of pulls you down on the side, and you’re always trying to lift yourself up when you run, so it’s hard to keep yourself going.”
Surface said she has a better appreciation for having access to clean water.
“It just really makes you realize how thankful you should be for what you have,” Surface said.
This marks the second consecutive year for seventh-graders in Ozark to do Walk for Water.
“Last year it got lots of compliments. The teachers in the building thought that it was such a cool thing, and administrators wanted to see about possibly turning it into a whole grade level thing, so that really blew up,” Taylor said.
Social studies teachers put their classes into the Walk for Water, resulting in the bump in participation from 124 to 480, and a newly-designed 3.7-mile course. In 2018, students were limited to walking laps around a course laid out on the Ozark Middle School campus. This year, they walked off campus through neighboring subdivisions with Christian County sheriff’s deputies escorting them along any spots that were potentially dangerous for traffic.
Teachers and parents also volunteered along a series of checkpoints throughout the route, a luxury not afforded to the girls who fetch water in South Sudan.
“I just wanted to keep a steady pace the entire time and not stop,” Jason Martin said. Martin is an active athlete who plays soccer and basketball and does CrossFit. “It was really difficult. If I didn’t have people cheering me on, it would have been a lot harder.”
“I’m just hoping that they get a little bit of a taste of what it’s like to live and be not-as-fortunate as us. We are truly spoiled,” Taylor said. “I’m hoping that they get just a little bit of empathy for somebody in another country.”
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