Riverdale students help solve world water crisis

Fill a glass with water, drink what you want and dump the rest down the drain.

Americans do that everyday without giving it a thought.

However 22 Riverdale High School students aren't taking our abundance of fresh water for granted after their term in Laurie LaPore's H2O class, a class that focuses on the world's water problems.

LePore created Riverdale's H2O class five years ago. She learned about the program at an H2O for Life breakout session at the Youth for a Change conference in 2008. The session was lead by H2O for Life president and co-founder Patty Hall, who started the program at the Minnesota middle school where she taught.

Her goal was to introduce service-learning opportunities to her students, study issues of global water crisis and take action by raising funds to bring water to Kathungu Village in Kenya. Hall and a parent volunteer worked with student leaders to engage the entire school to rally around the project. They raised more than the requested $13,000, and the project was built. LaPore said that Hall reported, 'Our students were amazed that their actions changed lives for Kathungu Village.'

'Also present in the session was an exchange student from one of the African nations. She eloquently and tearfully told a story about her school's lack of clean water, which often had to be closed, and her amazement that people so far away who had no (connection) to these schools would step up and help in such a powerful way,' said LePore. 'Hence the idea of H2O was born. I worked on it during the summer and the first class began the fall of 2008.'

Service learning is an integral part of the Riverdale experience and for several years a delegation made up of students, LePore and parent chaperones has traveled to India under the school's Bridges to India program. There they assist students at the Ithithanam Higher Secondary School and the medical center attached to it, which a former Riverdale parent has founded. Last fall the Bridges to India delegates determined a water purification system would benefit the health and educational opportunities for the Ithithanam community. With the system water could be tested daily, meaning schools would be less likely to close and girls would miss less school to gather water. The system would cost $3,300, so when the class began at the start of spring term the students put together their plan of how to raise the money.

'Much of the class is focused on fundraising to help schools around the world that do not have access to the water that we do,' said Bret Lorimore, a student in the class. 'In the past the Riverdale H2O class has helped four schools in Africa and the Phillipines with their water problems, and this year we are fundraising to help the Elamkavu Devaswom Ithithanam Higher Secondary School in Kerala, India, as well as bring water to the Oldonyo Orasha communitiy of Masaii in Kenya. So far, we have already met our $3,300 fundraising goal to revamp the water system in India, and from now on, all our profits will go to bringing water to the Masaii community in Kenya.'

To raise the funds students held some of tried and true fundraisers - T-shirt and sweatshirt sales - and the Riverdale traditional Krispy Kreme donut sale during parent conferences. But the largest fundraiser was prom. The students decided to have proceeds from prom ticket sales go toward funding the water purification system.

'I had to count that night,' said LePore. 'We came in just over our goal at $3,330!' Meeting the goal meant the class could focus on funding the Masaii village's water solution.

Fundraising for the water purification system is the service-learning portion of the class. There is still research to be done, field trips to take and presentations to be made. Students presented information on a wide range of topics: how dams work, what water does in the body, how long you can go without water, what the chemical reactions and other affects of dehydration are, what is actually in our water supply and more.

But still it seems the students are more focused on the impact they have in solving water crises for others around the world. They have many more T-shirts to sell to help the Masaii village with their water issue.

'We are a little school but we can make a difference,' LePore said.

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