By Jenny Howell –
I have been teaching Water Wise classes to elementary kids for many years now. It is in many ways the ideal job with lots of variety and flexibility, including outdoor classes at Gavin Lake near Likely, BC in the fall and in February; in-class sessions through the winter months; special events such as the April grade 7 Earth Challenge; library art displays; our Earth Friendly event; and then outside with field trips through May and June. The other great part of my job is working with the other Conservation Society staff, planning projects and bouncing ideas off each other. We all work (quite) part-time, yet I feel we accomplish so much with our limited hours as our individual skills and strengths complement and intersect so well. It also helps that we all believe that what we are doing has meaning and purpose, which is apparently the single most important thing for job satisfaction—luckily for us, income and status have less impact.
However, even the best jobs need renewal to keep them interesting. One of the easiest ways for me to freshen things up is to put together a new ‘module’. I get to research new material and then think of ways to present it to kids either in the classroom or at Gavin Lake. By the time kids reach the end of elementary school they have often had several Water Wise classes as well as a field trip or two, so I need to stay on top of new material for those older kids. It is also an age when kids are starting to get an awareness of the wider world and their place in it, so for one of my most recent creations, a World Water module seemed a good choice.
World Water Facts
2.3 billion people world-wide don’t have proper sanitation
More people have a mobile phone than a toilet
31% of schools worldwide don’t have clean water
844,000,000 people worldwide don’t have clean water close to home
Every two minutes a child dies from a water related disease
This module has had a few outings now, and like all my modules it grows and changes with each new class as I work out what is effective in engaging kids and what flops. It is not a module with easy content, although teachers assure me the kids are old enough and ready to deal with it.
We talk about how important clean water and sanitation are and how many billions of people on the planet don’t have those things. We talk about what happens when you don’t have a toilet and how many deaths this causes every day. (I’m sure it’s an annoying part of the module when I point out to kids how lucky they are to have a toilet).
We look at what the typhoid and cholera organisms actually look like. We talk about the women and children collecting the water, how many hours that can take, how far they have to walk, and how they can face attacks just on their daily water run (I don’t mention the rapes that occur, but it is very common). I do talk about the back and neck injuries so many women and girls have from carrying 15-20 kg of water on their heads, and I have the kids try and carry a bucket with just 10 kg in for a few minutes, just to get a ‘taste’ of what that would be like. I then probably annoy them again by telling them how lucky they are to have safe, clean water in their homes.
The Water Wise program was formed to educate area residents to conserve water when there was first concern about the sustainability of the Williams Lake aquifer, and it has since extended to include overall watershed health. I hope this module helps kids see the consequences of not having enough water, as well as what can happen if we don’t keep that water clean.
This next generation has so many issues ahead they will be dealing with, and I am fully aware there is a fine line between educating them and causing anxiety about things they may have little or no influence over. I hope raising awareness of some of these issues and then equipping kids with actual strategies to conserve, but also avoid polluting, water will give them a sense of control as they navigate a future in which climate change and unpredictable water patterns will play an ever-increasing role.