WARREN - Carrying 20 liters of water on their backs, John F. Kennedy School students found out what some women and children in Kenya do daily to get water for their families, often traveling two miles several times a day to the river.
The students had a greater appreciation for modern conveniences, especially running water, as they along with school faculty and administrators in pairs carried the water containers on their backs two miles (eight times around the sports track) as part of the water walk project held Sunday.
The idea was conceived and coordinated by high school junior Anna McCue based on her and other Kennedy family members' experience this past June as they traveled to rural Kenya on a mission trip.
A Massai warrior from Kenya shows John F. Kennedy School seventh graders Thomas Noark and London Hua how women and children carry water on their backs from rivers to their homes. The Massai warriors, Wilson (Meikuaya) and Jackson (Letasuna), work in partnership with the Free the Children in Kenya.
Photo by Bob Coupland
McCue said she was impressed by the 112 participants who in pairs took turns carrying the water.
McCue, who organized the water walk as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award, said, "The trip to Kenya was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life.''
''If I could go back I would. What hit me hard was not everyone has clean water. Seeing what the women have to do to get water, that is not even clean, blew me away," she said.
''When I saw what was happening for people to get water for their families, I wanted to bring this issue back to the school to help raise awareness,'' McCue said at an assembly at the school.
McCue and JFK President Brian Sinchak said one of the activities the mission team took part in while in Kenya was to join the mothers on one of their daily water walks, walking up to two miles to the river and back carrying water containers on their back. The women make the trip multiple times per day and the water they collect is unsafe to drink but is used for cleaning, bathing and cooking.
"We saw how the people there live. This water walk will help us understand how they live and let us help bring clean water to other parts of the world,'' Sinchak said.
The Free the Children's Clean Water Project will help change that as participants in the walk got pledges with proceeds to benefit the project.
McCue said efforts are being made to drill into the Earth to create a water area for easier access to water so children can instead of getting water can attend school.
McCue said the participants learned what it's like to not have clean water by watching a video presented by two Massai Warriors from Kenya who were at the school Sunday and Monday.
The Massai warriors, Wilson (Meikuaya) and Jackson (Letasuna) work in partnership with the Free the Children in Kenya.
The two men were sent into the wilderness to hone their survival skills before completing their educations. They are the authors of "The Last Maasai Warriors: An Autobiography."
They explained not only is the water a ''chocolate milk'' color but people risk their lives getting water with hippos and crocodiles that live in the Mara and other rivers.
The Maasai warriors served as guides to the JFK team when they were in Kenya.
On Monday, the two men spoke to the student body at the school on how drought has affected life in many parts of Africa.
McCue said plans are to hold the water walk every year.
"I think that more and more people are going to become involved, they're going to want to be involved because this is something huge, and it's something that we need to get involved in,'' she said.
Sinchak said by participating in the walk, they are part of the solution.
"This was not an easy thing to do. You will see how the women often struggle,'' Sinchak said.
Sinchak said water is very precious and should not be taken for granted, with many people dying for lack of clean water.
"More people die from the lack of basic clean water than from all forms of violence including war," Sinchak said.
McCue said 80 percent of diseases are caused by unclean water.
Prior to the walk, Father John Lavelle of Our Lady of Mt.Carmel in Niles and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in McDonald, said prayers for the participants and also for victims of the shooting and bombings this weekend in Kenya.
The school has taken mission trips before in 2012 to Ecuador with plans for 2014 to India through the Free the Children program.