Pupils aid West Africa with water

Sara Peck

Amid pizza, games and cupcakes at the Oakton Elementary School carnival Saturday, pupils were busy selling bottled water to benefit West African communities.

The school received a grant about two months ago through Oprah Winfrey’s O Ambassadors program, which funds the cost of the water bottles. The O Ambassadors program looks for applicants in four “Millennium Development Goals” themes: poverty, education, health and sustainable development.

The proposed project must focus on one of five regions: West Africa, East Africa, South Asia, East Asia or Latin America. Over the last couple of months, pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade have been making posters and selling water for their cause.

“It was a whole school effort,” said Neidra Berry, a kindergarten teacher at Oakton who heads the campaign. “The kids are so excited about this that they’re campaigning even when they’re not at school.”

Aside from selling the water, the pupils are also learning about the communities they are helping.

“The students picked a region, which was West Africa, and we began researching some of the issues,” Berry said. “The kids found that 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water.”

Cases of water bottles personalized with the project’s mission statement are shipped to the school. Pupils sell the water after school and at Oakton events.

At the carnival Saturday, fifth-grader R.J. Smith manned a table selling the bottles.

“My favorite part is when you give out the waters and sell them to people,” he said. “I think we can sell 500 cases.”

Parents have also been heavily involved in the project, sometimes even bringing cases to their offices to sell, Berry said.

“The parents have been really helpful, encouraging their kids to buy and drink the water,” said first-grade teacher Claudia Braithwaite.

The water sales have been fairly successful, said Vanessa Herrera, a fourth-grade teacher. At the carnival, students cracked open their last case.

“We’ve already sold out, and we’re waiting for another shipment,” Herrera said. “There’s a grandmother who works at Nabisco, and the owner buys cases of water and gives them to his factory employees.”

Other parents might not buy water by the case but still want to be involved.

Yrma Dezil said her fourth-grade daughter Jennifer came home eager to explain the initiative and get involved.

“It’s a nice program,” she said. “It’s good for the kids to help others, and Jenny seems really excited about it. I want to see her do well with it.”

Becky Zwolinski, whose daughter Claire is also a fourth-grader at Oakton, said she’s glad the children are actively contributing to a worthwhile cause.

“It’s a good idea for kids to have some recognition of issues outside of their world,” Zwolinski said.

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