Students from four classes at École Alberni Elementary School learned a lesson about accessible water on Friday when they had to walk up Johnston Road and line up to fill water jugs from four businesses.
The school did not run out of clean drinking water: the students were participating in an activity designed to drive home the message that not everyone has easy access to clean drinking water.
School librarian Jessica Hall read The Water Princess (La princesse de l’eau claire) by author Susan Verde to students, then thought she could bring the book’s message to the kids in a more tangible way.
“We talked about how we in Port Alberni are very fortunate to have access to clean and abundant water, and how limiting having to walk for water is for millions of people around the world,” Hall said.
The book tells the story of Princess Gie Gie, a young girl who lives in an African village that does not have access to water. She and her mother have to walk for hours and wait in line to collect sandy water in the pots they carry on their heads, then walk home and boil the water before they can use it for drinking, cooking or washing.
The book is based on the life of model Georgie Badiel, who comes from Burkina Faso in West Africa and now lives in New York, New York. “I never understood why we didn’t have water in our village, why the water wasn’t close, why we had to boil the water,” Badiel says in a video promoting her eponymous foundation.
Port Alberni students walked to Esso, the Johnston Road Co-Op, McDonald’s and Pacific Chevrolet, which all agreed to let the kids fill their water jugs from their taps.
Kinza Zvonarova, a student in Mr. McIvor’s Grade 3 French Immersion class, said the activity was fun as she filled her two-litre juice jug at the Co-op. “Sometimes it can be hard for people to do this every day,” she said. “We only have to do it once, so we’re really lucky.”
Kaysen Broissoit, who is in Mme. Joy Couttenier’s Grade 4–5 class, also thought the activity was fun. He was waiting with his jug outside of McDonald’s to walk back to school.
“We’re learning about how people in Africa or other places who don’t have much water have to walk lots of miles to get water,” said Broissoit, who was going to carry eight litres back—his own and one for his teacher.
Walter Titian, a student in Mr. McIvor’s class, borrowed an 18-litre (five-gallon) blue water jug and a parent volunteer helped him fill it part way. “It’s heavy,” Titian said as he walked through the door of the Johnston Road Co-op to where his classmates were waiting to fill their containers.
Titian carried his water bottle all the way back to the school “with a bit of help,” Hall said, “and he is still drinking from it today (Monday morning).”
Hall said the activity was a positive one for the school. “The kids were surprised at how hungry they were at recess that day, and how they only walked for one hour, and the girl in the book walked almost all day.”
While the book focuses on African villages, Hall said she told children that the issue of clean water isn’t so far away: there are Indigenous communities right here in Canada that do not have access to clean drinking water.
“I’m trying to stress to the kids that it’s not just in Africa where they don’t have water,” she said.