MONTGOMERY — Barr-Reeve’s eighth graders may never look at a simple drink of water from the kitchen faucet in the same light.

English students of Mrs. Hannah Mattingly read “A Long Walk to Water,” part biography/part novel, last fall where the main character Salva Dut described the South Sudan water crisis, where the water supply is often muddy from handmade wells or streams, and sometimes contaminated with radioactive waste. Some drinking water, which women and children walk four to eight hours a day just to retrieve, is populated with guinea worms causing stomach problems that can lead to death.

Part of the book, written by Linda Sue Park, describes Dut’s real-life escape from South Sudan as a refugee which eventually lands him in Rochester, N.Y., where he is compelled to help his home country’s water crisis. Dut founded an organization, Water for South Sudan, which in turn has issued an Iron Giraffe Challenge, where schools across the nation are being asked to raise $1,000 each to help buy better drilling rigs to construct safe water wells in South Sudan.

The old drilling rig -- The Iron Giraffe -- has already drilled more than 282 wells for the project, but needs replaced.

The eighth graders at Barr-Reeve were recognized as the 25th school nationwide to take the challenge, and have until early March to meet their goal to help fund a new rig. As part of their project, on Jan. 18 students will have a walkathon after school, where they each walk one mile, demonstrating the burdensome way Sudanese retrieve water. If they carry a gallon water jug for the mile, they will get extra credit, and the bottled water will be donated later to local food bank Feed My Sheep.

Mason Helm said some of his fellow students planned to carry their water jugs on their heads, which is how the Sudanese often carry theirs.

Amya Stoll, director of the project for her class period, said part of her job is to make sure her fellow classmates are on task. As part of their class work, students also wrote publicity articles, designed posters, flyers, and made PowerPoints for their community awareness presentations.

Stoll says the students are likely to make their goal, being just $35 short as of Wednesday.

Coordinators Hannah Graber and Katie Wagler agreed that most donations so far have come from parents and family, as well as school board members.

A group of students presented their project to the school board, as well as the school’s Beta Club and Student Council, to create awareness. And, they have designed and sold bracelets with the saying “Changing Lives One Drop at a Time.”

Also as part of the project, Brandy Jewett, a Franklin College student who studied abroad in Uganda, spoke to the classes about her experiences.

And another student from Uganda recorded answers to some of the students’ submitted questions.

Graber said of the project, “I think it has been beneficial to all of us. We take water for granted. Some people have to walk eight hours to get their water.”

Mrs. Mattingly, now in her second year teaching at the school, said she visited the Water for South Sudan website after reading the book.

She said, “The ‘Iron Giraffe’ part in the book comes from when a drilling rig comes to Nya’s village. It looks like a tall iron giraffe, so that’s what she calls it. I pitched it to the kids and they were all really excited that they could make a difference.

“People are dying from drinking water in South Sudan... all across the world really and the kids have really gotten into being able to do this service project, make a difference in the world and really change someone’s life through something you can do at school. They’ve really done well with it.”


Anyone who wants to donate for the Water for South Sudan Iron Giraffe Project can call Barr-Reeve High School at 812-486-3265 or contact any eighth grade student. Students are just shy of their $1,000 goal, but would like to raise as much as possible.

Visit for more information.

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