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WaterAfrica's next generation

Compassionate kids eager to raise money to dig bore holes


REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - The kids are coming to help WaterAfrica. In front are Grace Engle and Echo Smith. In back are Karthik Sreedhar, Stephanie Ward and Water Africa Director Gary Mittelstaedt.

WaterAfrica does not need for children to grow into adulthood in order to help. The organization that raises money to dig bore holes in Zambia is getting lots of help from kids right now.

Karthik Sreedhar, 12, started a WaterAfrica Club at Lakeridge High School.

Grace Engel, 13, makes bracelets.

Stephanie Ward, 11, and Echo Smith, 10, sell Girl Scout Cookies.

Because of kids like these four, plus many others, WaterAfrica directors Gary and Judi Mittelstaedt are confident their project can raise $1.5 million dollars by 2020.

“It’s a huge goal,” Gary Mittelstaedt admits.

The goal is huge, but it’s also possible if such compassionate kids keep joining up.

Echo Smith, left, and Stephanie Ward are two crackerjack salesgirls of Girl Scout Cookies, and they are sharing part of their proceeds with Water Africa.

Karthik had never heard of WaterAfrica until the day he went to a Lake Oswego Rotary Club meeting to accept a cash prize for winning the club’s essay contest. Gary Mittelstaedt happened to be one of the speakers that day, and Karthik was instantly intrigued. To Gary Mittelstaedt’s delight, the boy turned over his check as a donation to Water Africa.

Since then Karthik has done other remarkable things, like forming a WaterAfrica Club and signing up 20 members. These fine young fellows raise money in various ways, including collecting cans at super markets and holding fundraisers. A recent effort at Yodelish Yogurt in Lake Oswego earned $200.

Perhaps the coolest thing Karthik did was create a website for WaterAfrica at lakeridgewaterafrica.weebly.com.

Stephanie and Echo are selling one of the world’s greatest products: Girl Scout Cookies. Most people find them irresistible, and the girls are raising a tidy amount for donation to Water Africa. Besides selling cookies, the girls collect cans, bottles and loose change out of people’s pockets. The two girls are also recruiting Brownies to take up the WaterAfrica cause.

“Five years ago, we were at church, and we heard a family talk about WaterAfrica,” Stephanie says. “We asked, ‘How do we get involved?’”

Stephanie was just 6 years old at the time, making her possibly the youngest WaterAfrica volunteer of all time. She has no plans to give it up.

“My goal is to go to Zambia in 2019,” Stephanie says. “I’d like to see what our money is helping to build.”

Grace happens to be very good at making bracelets and also motivating her friends. So far they have sold $1,000 worth of them and put the money into the bank account for WaterAfrica.

“I’ve gotten my friends together to make bracelets with elephant charms,” Grace says. “We’ve sold them at trunk shows and we sell them at The Grove. We’ve been very successful so far.”

The Mittelstaedts are as pleased as punch about what the kids are doing. Judi Mittelstaedt calls them “our young champions.”

The youth movement for WaterAfrica didn’t just happen. Getting more kids involved was one of the Mittelstaedts’ main goals when they took over as directors.

Gary Mittelstaedt, co-director of WaterAfrica, is delighted with the contribution of youngsters like Karthrik Seedhar to the organization.

“Our intention was to expand to the youth of the community,” Gary Mittelstaedt says. “We’ve had conversations with a lot of youth groups. The Girl Scouts have been involved for several years. Kids play the marimbas at our walk. They’ve been a part of our success that we are very pleased about.”

The big reason kids seem so drawn to WaterAfrica is they identify with African kids who struggle every day to get enough water to live. The whole WaterAfrica project actually started with one incident of empathy. On a trip to Zambia in 2005, Bill Savage decided to walk along with a woman as she went to haul water for her family. She went to a dried out creek bed that had a muddy little hole with some brown water that had debris in it. She scooped it out with an old hard hat and poured it into her bucket. Shocked, Savage asked the woman if she was going to boil the water to purify it. She says “no,” because she didn’t have enough fuel.

Savage proceeded to found WaterAfrica, and the organization has raised $1.5 million dollars that have gone to dig bore holes that provide water for 30,000 Zambians. Water that transforms their lives in every way — health, food, commerce, education.

Phase II is now in progress, and the faces that make up WaterAfrica are getting younger all of the time.

“We’re on a good ramp up,” Gary Mittelstaedt says. “Our kids have a real sense of how to open themselves up to people who really need help.”

For more about WaterAfrica, go to waterafrica.org.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.

Karthik Sreedhar has not only formed a WaterAfrica club at Lakeridge Junior High School, he has set up a website about it on the Internet.

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