DERWOOD, MD (May 12) – Students from six local Montessori schools will walk around the perimeter of Rock Creek Park’s Lake Frank, in hopes of raising money and awareness for a program which seeks to lessen the marathon journey – which can be a stifling 35 miles roundtrip – that children in the Azawak region of Niger must face each time they and their families need a cup of water to drink.
The 3.25-mile “A Walk For Water”, with the support of Rock Creek Regional Park, will be held on May 12, starting at 10 a.m. Although the walk will only be a fraction of the distance that children in Niger’s desert must journey for water, to the students, who have been learning about the children of the Azawak in their classes, the event will symbolize their solidarity with the Nigerien children.
Participating schools include: The Oneness-Family School, Chevy Chase, Md.; The Barrie School, Silver Spring, Md.; Evergreen School, Wheaton, Md.; Love of Learning Montessori School, Columbia, Md.; Monocacy Valley Public Charter Montessori School, Frederick, Md.; and Odyssey Montessori School, Fredericksburg, Va. A young man from the Azawak who now lives in Pennsylvania will also join the students.
“By walking together, the students are sending a message to the children in the Azawak and to the world that says, ‘We care. Every child should have water to drink, and we are going to do something about it,’” says organizer Debbie Kahn, Assistant Director at the Oneness-Family School. “I want students to gain an experience of the affect they can have on the world by collaborating with each other. This walk is a lesson in global citizenry.” Kahn hopes that “A Walk For Water” will inspire more schools around the country to collaborate to save and improve the lives of the children and families in this region.
Started by Ariane Kirtley, a former Fulbright Scholar who studied public health in Niger and spent a large portion of her childhood growing up there, Amman Imman or “water is life” in the local language of the people that the program helps, hopes to build wells for the people of the Azawak, and eventually the infrastructure, they so desperately need.
Although Amman Imman successfully created the infrastructure for its first well in the Azawak, a region the size of Florida, currently, the majority of the 500,000 people living there have no water for nine months out of the year due to a lengthening drought. During the three months that they do have water, it is nothing we’d recognize. Their water is brackish, brown and thick with mud, dirtied by the people and animals which bathe in the ponds.
Unlike throughout the rest of Niger, there are no humanitarian agencies working in this area, for fear of dehydration and sickness amongst their workers. Therefore, there are no roads or trails leading to or from the Azawak. Few schools exist in the area. The closest health center is a two-day trip by donkey. Half of children born there die before they turn five; one quarter die from dehydration alone. When little girls – nine, ten, eleven years old – make their marathon hike to the nearest water well on the outskirts of the Azawak, they often come home to find their little brothers and sisters dead from having no water to drink.
Although Kirtley lived in Niger for more than a decade and, growing up, witnessed poverty in Ivory Coast, Senegal, Algeria and The Gambia, she said the situation in the Azawak “overwhelmed me. I thought I knew about water problems in Niger. I had no idea.”
Program Amman Imman is a Washington, D.C.-based program, working in partnership with the American non-profit The Friendship Caravan, dedicated to drastically improving and saving the lives of the people living in the Azawak region of Niger. For more information, visit our website, www.waterforniger.org. For information on the student collaboration, visit http://montessori-amman-imman-project.blogspot.com/.