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Chilliwack teacher-librarian teaching water's value

Little Mountain teacher-librarian Andrea Wirrell (centre) with Grade 4 students (from left to right) Wyatt Emery, Tyler Perry, Jordanna Werkman and Heaven Errand. - Cornelia Naylor
Little Mountain teacher-librarian Andrea Wirrell (centre) with Grade 4 students (from left to right) Wyatt Emery, Tyler Perry, Jordanna Werkman and Heaven Errand.
— image credit: Cornelia Naylor

During Chilliwack teacher-librarian Andrea Wirrell’s trip to Ethiopia with Run for Water last month, her team visited a hospital just as a local woman was going into labour.

A member of the team who had trained as a doula was invited to be part of the birth.

One thing she witnessed floored Wirrell and the rest of the team.

“The mother to be was very thirsty and asked for water, and they said, ‘We don’t have any water,’” Wirrell said. “Here’s a mother who’s giving birth and she’s asking for something as simple as a drink of water, and there’s no water to give her—in a hospital. They didn’t have running water in the hospital.”

Wirrell is no stranger to global social justice issues, but the image of the thirsty mom and the fact that one of the Canadians could simply run to the team’s vehicle to get her a bottle of water, was a poignant in-person reminder of how wealth and resources are distributed around the world.

“There, even walking with a water bottle you felt privilege,” Wirrell said.

The aim of the 13-day Ethiopia trip was to get schools more involved in Run for Water, an annual Abbotsford run (5 km, 10 km, half marathon, marathon and 55 km ultra marathon) that has raised $1 million for Ethiopian water projects with Hope International since 2007.

Organizers invited seven teachers  (five from Abbotsford, one from Agassiz and Wirrell from Chilliwack) to check out those projects first hand.

Back at Little Mountain elementary, Wirrell is now bringing her experiences back to her students.

“It’s not only about raising money; it’s also about raising global citizens who are more aware of what life is like around the world,” she said.

Since returning from Ethiopia, Wirrell has shared stories and photos from her trip as classes come through library. She’s even taught kids a couple of Amharic phrases and numbers.

And on April 30, she will lead a couple of intermediate classes in a “walk with water” that will see students haul water from nearby Hope Slough with a class set of jerry cans.

It’s meant to be a hands-on illustration of the challenges people in countries like Ethiopia face when it comes to water.

As some Little Mountain students have already learned from Wirrell, water quality in such places is more like the stuff that comes from Hope Slough than from a Canadian kitchen tap.

“The water there is in mud and then insects come out of nowhere and drink it,” Grade 4 student Wyatt Emery said. “Sometimes they drown, and then some Ethiopians pick the water up. It’s all dirty. They might get sick. Sometimes they might drink the bugs. I think that’s kind of bad because they might get sick and die.”

Fellow Grade 4 student Jordanna Werkman admits to being “a little grossed out” at the idea of drinking bugs and said people in Ethiopia should have clean water so they don’t get sick.

Classmates Tyler Perry and Heaven Errand agree the way things are isn’t fair.

“It’s dirty there, and we have clean water here, so I don’t think it’s fair to them,” Perry said.

“They should be able to have clean water,” said Errand.

But water quality isn’t the only issue said Wirrell.

Having to haul water long distances from limited sources—a task that usually falls to girls—also has important social impacts.

The time consuming chore often gets in the way of girls’ education; and hosts in Ethiopia told Wirrell girls traveling long distances from home to fetch water are also vulnerable to attack.

The water projects Run for Water supports supply clean water and give girls a chance to stay safe and stay in school.

That’s one reason Little Mountain will also host its own mini, three-kilometre Run for Water fundraiser May 15.

Having toured some of the water projects in Ethiopia in person, Wirrell is confident the money is being well spent on easy-to-maintain systems that put local populations in control of their own water.

“Sometimes you get this sense that Africa, is anything ever changing? Do they have the skills to help themselves?,” Wirrell said. “They do. That’s what I saw. They just need the money.”

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