Students raise money for drinking water in Puerto Rico
WASHINGTON — Months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the island is still trying to recover and restore services, including access to drinking water.
Students at Rumsey Hall School in the town of Washington saw the images of devastation on the news and learned of what was happening from those with relatives there. They decided they wanted to help and used the money collected at the annual Valentine’s Day fundraiser for Puerto Rico instead of local charities.
Abby Butler, a fourth-grader involved in the fundraiser, watched the news with her parents and learned families had to purchase fuel instead of food because many residents didn’t have electricity. Many also didn’t have drinking water.
“It looked really horrible,” she said.
Last week, students cheered as they gathered in the cafeteria and learned they had collected enough money to provide clean drinking water to an entire school in Puerto Rico by purchasing LifeStraws, filtration devices that makes dirty water potable.
“You can make a difference,” Abby said. “I really hope people will see that they can do stuff too.”
The first LifeStraw was created in 2005, though parent company Vestergaard has been working on filtration since 1994. The filtration devices range from a single straw, which costs about $20 and filters up to 1,000 liters, to the community size, which costs about $330 and filters 70,000 to 100,000 liters.
Nearly five months after the hurricane, roughly 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s population has drinkable water, though the whole territory is being urged to boil water before use. This is up from 69 percent at the 30-day mark and 86 percent 90 days after the hurricane hit, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The idea to purchase LifeStraws is months in the making. A fifth-grader shared the technology with her peers as part of a class project in the fall. Teachers and students began testing it on the pond on the grounds, discovering it really worked.
In the months following Hurricane Maria, the Student Council researched what was happening in Puerto Rico, sharing the information with the rest of the school. They, in connection with the parent group, decided the best way to help was to purchase LifeStraws so more people could have drinking water.
“I’m hoping to assist Puerto Rico until they can help themselves,” said David Block, a fourth-grader on Student Council.
Teachers were able to use existing connections and set up a partnership with Escuela Intermedia Juana Rosario Carrero, a middle school with about 450 students in Aguada, Puerto Rico.
Students were especially convinced their gift would make a difference when they learned FEMA was withdrawing support on Jan. 31.
At first, the group hoped to raise enough to purchase one community jug and several straws. The fact they can purchase a jug for each floor of the school far exceeds their expectations.
“It can take care of a mass of people,” said Karen Saxe, one of the teacher advisers for the Student Council.
For four days, students purchased paper hearts for a dollar, generating more than $1,000 — the most the fundraiser has ever collected.
“It really touches people and makes them aware that Puerto Rico is still in need and there’s something you can do about it,” said Anne Block, one of the parents that helps run the fundraiser. “The kids see that impact.”
The teachers said the students really got behind the fundraiser, especially because they were able to help other students.
“We thought it was important to have that school-to-school connection,” said Jaymie Naclerio, one of the teacher advisers for the Student Council. “It made it more real for the kids that they could be in that situation.”
She hopes the schools will also be able to develop a relationship beyond this and possibly become pen pals.
“It was neat that it was a student-driven initiative and the idea to think outside of themselves,” said Carol Maxwell, the school’s director of development. “We’re a boarding community and some, they’re not just giving a dollar. It’s a good chunk of their weekly allowance to make a donation.”
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