Belinder 6th graders’ love of reading sparks effort to raise money for well in South Sudan

A group of Belinder sixth graders turned their experience reading a book together into a fundraising drive for the people of South Sudan.
A group of Belinder sixth graders turned their experience reading a book together into a fundraising drive for the people of South Sudan.

Earlier this school year, Belinder Elementary Principal Steve Yeoman noticed that a group of girls seemed to be hurrying to finish their lunches so they could sneak in a few minutes of reading time before the class bell rang.

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Belinder Water for South Sudan project

• Group of 6th grade girls started fundraising effort with goal of raising $25,000 for Water for South Sudan
• Money would pay for a new well and a school for a community in the country
• Donations can be made at the group’s Crowdrise site here.[/pullquote]

“I’d pop over and see what they were reading and talk books and shop and what not,” Yeoman said. “And so I asked them one day, ‘Well, if we’re so keen on reading, what if we all chose the same book? What if we read together?'”

The girls — Emma Lee, Mara Privette, Caroline Sandstrom, Molly Johnson, Anne Deedy, Emily Moseley and Tess Roman — agreed. The group conducted an online search for book recommendations, and one of the titles that came back was A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, the story of one of the lost boys of South Sudan and his struggles to survive during the country’s prolonged civil war. The book made quite an impression as the girls wrestled with the reality of their comfortable lives in northeast Johnson County and the realities of life for kids their age half a world away.

“So, the question was kind of ‘What do we do with this?'” Yeoman recalled. “We have this industrious group of kids, and I said, ‘Well, I think she wrote this book for a reason.’ I think we all sort of decided that there was something we should do with that, some sort of moral drive to act on it.”

The group started investigating, and found that there was an organization called Water for South Sudan that was raising money to drill wells in the parched country. For $25,000, Water for South Sudan could not only drill a new well for a community, but build them a new school as well. The girls were in.

Yeoman gave them some early direction on how to get organized, but soon the girls were meeting on their own, working with their classmates and families to set up fundraising activities. They set up a donations page through Crowdrise.com. They contacted Hy-Vee, which gave them bottled water that they sell at school events. Sporting KC donated an autographed jersey and the school held a raffle to pick a winner. The girls managed to raise more than $2,000 in just a couple of months.

There’s still a long way to go before Belinder hits its $25,000 goal, but Yeoman said it can take two or three years for school groups to meet their Water for South Sudan campaign targets. The sixth graders are in their last week at the school, so they won’t be there to see the goal accomplished. But Yeoman said he expects to have them back for a celebration in a year or two when the community hits the $25,000 mark.

In the meantime, the girls are working to hand the project over to a group of current fifth graders who share a similar love of reading. They’re already finding, however, that letting go of something you started isn’t always as easy as it seems.

“I trust most of the fifth graders,” Deedy said cautiously. “Most.”