By RON FANFAIR
For a few minutes last week, Tom Longboat Junior Public School’s Grade Four student, Oneil Turton, experienced a glimpse of life in some of the world’s poor and underdeveloped countries.
As part of Earth Day celebrations, students from three Scarborough schools participated in a symbolic water-walk similar to the trek made by thousands of young people – mainly girls – in remote African, Asian and Latin American regions. Each day, children fetch and carry water – which, in most cases, weighs more than half their body weight – for many kilometers.
In addition to Tom Longboat, students from Mary Shadd and Alexander Sterling schools in Malvern took part in the fund-raising event to bring clean water systems to schools in Benin, Africa by engaging in an interactive workshop and attempting to lift the jerry cans normally used by kids to transport water.
Young Turton’s eagerness to fetch a jerry can half-full of water and a heavy knapsack used as a substitute for a baby, which most young girls carry while balancing water cans on their heads, was soon tempered by the enormity of the challenge.
Plan Canada, formerly Foster Parents Plan, organized the event that attracted almost 200 Grade Four to Seven students. It’s one of the world’s oldest and largest international development organizations working in close to 65 countries worldwide on critical issues affecting millions of children.
It’s estimated that nearly 1.7 million children under the age of five die each year because they lack access to safe water and proper sanitation and almost a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water from protected sources.
“What really strikes me is that everywhere you look, there are young children carrying water using yellow jerry cans that were used to store vegetable oil,” said media relations officer, Steven Theobald, who has been to several African countries since joining Plan Canada three years ago. “You will see a six-year-old kid, for instance, taking more than half their body weight on their head for several kilometres when they should be in school.
“What we have found is that when we dig a hole and come up with a deep well, we provide a source of clean water for the children and their communities and it allows the young people to be in the classrooms where they should be instead of hauling water around.”
The event took place at Malvern Town Centre which donated funds for clean water in Benin schools. Messages from the students, written on paper cutouts shaped like water droplets, were forwarded to students in the West African country.
“This is a great opportunity to talk to these young people about the impact for all of us of how we treat our earth, including our water,” added Plan Canada Children Rights adviser, Sarah Stevenson. “It’s our hope that they would leave here today knowing much more about water and its importance to all of us.”
Earth Day celebrations were held across the country on April 21.