Highland Middle School Student Fundraise to Improve Drinking Water in West Africa

Highland Middle School students will spend the entire school year raising money to provide clean drinking water thousands of miles away in Guinea, West Africa.

"This is the age when kids start thinking outside of themselves," says Highland Middle School Principal Jon Hallmark when explaining how yearlong fundraising projects have become so popular at the Libertyville school. Last year, the student body raised $8,700 to donate to The Sports Shed, a local non-profit group that collects sporting equipment for children in need or sporting groups without funding.

This is the fifth year Highland Middle School students and teachers will collaborate in a schoolwide fundraising project to collect monies for The Benkadi Project. The Benkadi Project builds bioSand water filters to clean water in one of the poorest countries in the world. The school hopes to raise between $7,000 and $10,000.

"This is a great opportunity for middle school students to learn about life in Guinea, as well," Hallmark said. "It's important for them to learn about service, and serving others and giving back. They want to. They realize the world is a lot bigger than Libertyville."

To help connect the students to a project that is a continent away, the school invited West African musician Fode Camara and Helen Bond of the Benkadi Project to visit the Libertyville school for a week. The move also was in line with a new Highland Reads summer reading program that had students reading books about different cultures.

"One of our driving goals of Highland Reads was to expose the Highland population to cultures and ways of life outside their own," said Carey Fox, accelerated eighth grade Language Arts and Literature teacher. Over the summer, students and staff read either I Am Malala or I Will Always Write Back as part of a reading program.

"To that end, the arrival of Ms. Bond and Mr. Camara connects student life to that of West Africa," Fox said. Fox and Learning Center Director Dr. Erin Wyatt arranged to have both guests visit. "While it is true that neither of our books were set in Guinea, the experiences gained by the average reader (through French African culture, the importance and guarantee of fresh, safe drinking water with a bioSand water filter, communication through drumming, or the passing on of heirloom stories of ancestors through the strong man dance) should broaden understanding and foster appreciation for cultures not our own. The drumming is enhanced in that the students will learn about making drums and uses of them other than beautiful music, and then they will get to play the drums themselves. It is hands-on and interactive, thus meeting one of our strategic goals of incorporating more movement into students' days."

While at Highland, Camara, a French speaker, and Bond visited with French classes, conducted sessions on clean water and how bioSand filters are constructed and used by the community in their homes in Guinea, and offered African drumming sessions for students.

Musician and teacher Helen Bond traveled to Guinea, West Africa in 2001 to learn about the djembe hand drum. Bond, along with another teacher, Amy Lusk, created Motherland Rhythm Community's Benkadi Project that began with building a school and enhancing education for area children. The project went on to build wells, a youth center, a garden, provided medical and food supplies, harnessed solar energy and provided more educational opportunities. Projects of late include the bioSand filters to provide clean drinking water for people who often drink from polluted streams and contaminated wells. Community members build the filters for about $30 and teach residents how to use them.

"The Benkadi Project started as an effort to provide educational opportunities for children in Sangbaralla, Guinea," said Highland Middle School teacher and member of the Highland Charity Committee Kristen Palic. "In the summer of 2013, they began fabrication and distribution of bioSand water filters. The filters are made of cement and use sand and rock as filter media. One filter provides clean drinking water for a family of 10 for potentially more than 10 years."

To raise money for the project, students and teachers will seek donations for a school dance, participation in a student vs teacher volleyball tournament, selling concessions during basketball games, and the student talent show.

"Before we focused on one project a year, students came into my office every week with service projects and ideas on what to raise money for," Hallmark said. "They clearly want to help. By only having one yearlong project, we allow them to focus on it and learn much more about what they are raising funds for and why."

Past projects have included The Cove, Camp I am, Orphans of the Storm and Feed My Starving Children.

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