More than a Drop in the Bucket

special contribution to the blog by Paul Freedman, director of Salmonberry School, Orcas Island, Washington State

Salmonberry School’s Primary Class recently capped off an integrated thematic study of water and North African cultures with an inspiring service learning project called “A Walk for Water.” The ten 5-7 year olds walked a total of 76 half-mile loops through Eastsound to raise funds for a remote North African community in need of help to drill wells for their community. The most determined of the young walkers completed five miles each.
It all started in the fall with the class studying water. They looked at water properties, water cycle, and all kinds of scientific investigations. Quickly this led to explorations of water resource issues locally and around the world. In December the class began an in depth cross cultural study of the Saharan region and particularly the country of Niger, generally considered the poorest, and driest country on earth. In this phase of the project the class cooked and ate food from North Africa, looked at and analyzed photographs, read Peace Corps workers’ journals, listened to and played music, looked at clothing, language, housing and games from the region, and even touched on language, folk tales and religion in North Africa. I believe it was a very respectful and rich cultural study. The children got a full sense of what it might be like to live in the Saharan Region.

Salmonberry School then connected with the Amman-Imman (Water is Life) Project, a collaborative effort of educators and children across the country committed to helping raise money and awareness through service learning projects in their communities. The project is targeting a region called the Azawak Valley located mostly in the west part of Niger and extending into Mali. It is an area roughly the size of Florida with 500,000 people and virtually no water for nine months each year. In this community people, often young children, have to walk huge distances to find muddy water sources to bring back meager supplies of water for their families for drinking, cooking, bathing, watering stock and irrigating gardens. Sometimes these children journey up to thirty miles in search of water.With this figure in mind, the Salmonberry students set a goal of a cumulative 30 mile walk through Eastsound. And Tuesday, January 15, it became a reality. Students gathered pledges from friends and family members. Then they walked for three hours, collecting tokens for each half-mile they completed. All together the class collected 76 tokens representing 38 miles walked cumulatively. These efforts will result in a sizable amount of money to contribute to the Amman-Imman Project. It also resulted in some amazing and unexpected learning on the part of the kids.

“I learned how when you have something hard to do it is easier if friends do it with you,” Emma Freedman, 7

“I learned how our class supports each other whatever each person is able to do,”

“I learned that kids in Niger have to walk a long way for water and that they must have very strong legs and feet,” Stormy Hildreth, 6

“I learned I sleep well after I exercise,” Maddi Dudley, 6

“I learned that when you do something even if it is a hard thing to do, you feel really good and proud in the end,” Ethan White, 7

“I learned it feels good to help people,” Benjamin Pollard, 7

“I learned that the world isn’t always fair for everyone,” Henry Miller, 6

The classroom teacher and Director of Salmonberry Elementary School had this to say: “I think we teachers and parents often underestimate children. We try to shield them from the unpleasant realities of life on earth when actually they are capable of such deep understanding and such wisdom and compassion. At the same time it is extremely important to guide young children as they begin to open their eyes to the world’s injustices. It would be easy for us to instill in youngsters a sense of hopelessness and despair. And yet it is also possible to begin to develop a sense of agency, possibility and social activism; and that is what service learning is all about. Young elementary age kids are particularly tuned in to issues of fairness. They are so aware of commonalities and basic humanity in all people. They are uniquely open to appreciation for diversity and difference. It is a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on all of these unique capacities and learn together in ways that are joyful and meaningful, and that leave a positive footprint on the earth. I know the donation we will make to help the people of the Azawak will be just a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed, but after all a bucket-full is nothing more than a collection of drops. These kids got so much out of this project. I am so proud of all of them.”

The students wrote beautiful heartfelt letters and cards that will be included with the check, which will be mailed to the Amman-Imman Project.

For more information on this project please visit the following websites: and


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