My love affair with addressing the clean water crisis began five years ago in the fall of 2008. After spending the summer participating in the Global Institute for Leadership and Civic Development in Prague, I returned to the United States with a renewed enthusiasm to make the world a better place. In my opinion, the best way to change the world was to open young (very young) people’s eyes and minds to the world outside their hometown and to teach them about important global issues.
But what global issues are appropriate to teach six year olds?
I needed a topic to which young children could relate. Among others, violence against women, war and conflict, and infectious diseases were too obviously scary and therefore out of the question. The global water crisis, however, was not. Everyone needs water to survive. Even children at the tender age of six can understand water’s importance as they see it, drink it, and/or play in it every day. With that realization, I began my project to empower young students to advocate for change.
An image can be a powerful tool. Knowing that, I wanted to publish a book about the global water crisis completely illustrated by children aged 6 to 10 years. At a local school, I taught students about the global water crisis in three stages (see below). After each lesson, the future advocates drew pictures of what they learned. Here are a few ideas from their illustrations:
Q: Why is clean water important?
A: Drinking, bathing, brushing your teeth, swimming, animal health, safety, cooking, and having fun
Q: What are the consequences of lacking access to clean water?
A: Unhealthy animals and people, violence, disease, conflict, and death
Q: How can you help?
A: Write letters to politicians, personal fundraisers, educate others, and donate to and/or raise money for water related non-profits
It was amazing to see the depth to which very young children could comprehend the global water crisis and feel excited about finding solutions. At one point, a young girl raised her hand to say that not having access to clean water was a major problem. Therefore, she had realized that dirty water was not the only problem, but also the ability to seek out and find clean water was another issue in and of itself. Towards the end, these little changemakers approached me with several ideas to raise money to quell the crisis. One girl brought in a bag of paperclips from her home and suggested that I sell them and then donate the proceeds. Other students brought in one, two or three dollar bills to donate.
Growing up in a small town, I never was truly exposed to global issues in public school. Yes, we learned about world history, but we never took it a step further to discuss current global crises. My hope is that my fun and interactive lessons planted the seed in these students’ minds that the world is a big place with many big problems to solve.
I hope that one day, my students will be teaching others about successful solutions rather than about overwhelming problems.
By publishing the students’ efforts into one tangible, collective voice, my students not only learned about the global water crisis, but also automatically became advocates for change and that – in my opinion – was the most important lesson of all.
To view the book in its entirety, please download Why Water? here.