Montessori Communities telling a story for water in Niger

Special Contribution to the Blog: Paula Leigh-Doyle, head of Hershey Montessori School in Concord Township and Huntsburg, Ohio, wrote this letter to her fellow Montessori administrators:
Dear colleagues,

Hershey Montessori School shared in the energy of a butterfly ripple that is still resonating across Montessori Schools around the world. Regardless of affiliation, over 50 Montessori schools have already joined together for one humanitarian action. The movement has raised awareness about world water quality as well as funds to build wells in this vulnerable region of the Azawak.  Our relationship to this project began with a moving story told by a Montessori teacher in Maryland.  She recounted the visit to her school by Montessori alum Ariane Kirtley and her dedicated vision for the health of tribal people in Niger.  I invited some of the teacher's adolescent students to embark on their own long journey to Ohio and thus continue telling Ariane's story to others. In response to the story told by those visiting adolescents, our students and staff decided to take on this opportunity as our whole-school philanthropic work.

Perhaps you have time to follow this link to a short account of the Amman Imman project that bores deep water wells for the pastoral and tribal people of the Azawak region in Niger:

Ariane Kirtley spent much of her childhood in Africa while her parents were journalists there. Her father, Michael Kirtley, contracted as a photographer for National Geographic and was an active peace advocate.  Ariane also attended a Montessori School in Kentucky for a time when they lived in America. She ultimately earned a Fulbright scholarship for post graduate research in medical anthropology and public health through Yale University. Her work brought her back to the people of West Africa and thus she began her journey to help to a region where no other international agency support existed. Her story was featured on the cover of the Yale School of Medicine Journal but spread to over 50 Montessori Schools around the world (Yale Medicine › Winter 2007 )   The plot of this story centers around the work of amazing children who journey up to 30 miles a day to bring their community water but it is also about the story telling of our Montessori children and staff around the world who continue to pass along the news from school community to school community.

Ariane and her husband developed the Amman Imman initiative which raised funds, bored a deep well hole, and equipped and trained the Tuareg people of Tangarwashane on the management of their first well. Related progress quickly followed with the subsequent arrival of other aid organizations and soon other education opportunities for women, a forestation program and the construction of the village’s first school. Last month a second borehole well proved viable in Kijigari and in honor of the Montessori children and their communities who are primarily raising the funds, it will be named “The Montessori Well of Love”.  The borehole now sits capped and locked awaiting the remaining $50,000 needed to equip it with a tower structure and related plumbing.  Some of your Montessori schools have already joined in the story telling but I send this in case there are others who have yet to hear it. The heavy tread of our global warming depresses its footprint on this land as the rain season is measurably shortening and the dry season extends its duration in a region where life was once sustainable for 500,000 people.  I feel a great urgency for fifty percent of the children under the age of 5 years who will die without this clean water source during the impending dry season in the fall of 2010.

Amman Imman means Water is Life in Tamachek, the Tuareg language. Visit the web site at: and the Montessori Blog at  If you are in the D.C area, between now and May 24, check out an exhibit of Ariane’s photography of the Azawak at the Bing Stanford art gallery. Her photographs also tell a story of the beauty of the people, stunning colors of clothing and intimate family interaction. Exhibit information will be posted tomorrow at:

Within our own school, we have learned much about the challenges of presenting such a geographically remote need, in a meaningful way, to children in three different planes of development. We observed our children’s responses and re-discovered the inspiring value of both “student choice” and authentically student-directed activity in relation to proposing a whole-school community initiative Contact me directly if you would like to hear about some of the cultural presentations we explored as well as our successes and failures among these experiences at Hershey Montessori School.

Peace in action,

Paula Leigh-Doyle, Hershey Montessori School


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