Banks students are helping children in African village

Banks students are helping children in African village

Banks Elementary students carry water to help the Tanzania village of Toloha. Submitted photo

A quick look around the community shows there is a lot of poverty. However, when you leave the United States and go to foreign countries, the level of abject poverty increases. We live in a truly blessed country where our national, state and local governments have programs that can give assistance to those who need help.

Many people in other countries are not so fortunate.

Among the most poverty-stricken places in all the world is Africa. It is a continent rich in resources, but still suffers from decades of colonialism. Many African countries struggle with ethnic conflicts, droughts, famines and disease epidemics -- and that's on top of the poverty.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many organizations around the world that try to funnel hope to Africa. One of these organizations is based here in Kinston: The Toloha Partnership.

Toloha is a village in Tanzania, right in the heart of the country. It is a very rural village far away from any major city and is so remote it cannot be located on Google Maps. Because of this, its access to some services we take for granted -- such as medical care, clean water, sanitation and schools -- are very limited.

There was a water pipeline that fed the town. Over the years, the pipes have gotten rusty and the pipe itself has been hacked, siphoning off water. The water that finally ends up in Toloha trickles in slowly and is far from being clean.

Karyl Willis, a fifth-grade teacher at Banks Elementary School, was inspired by her kids to help.

“Several years ago, one of the Battle of the Books we read in class was 'The Long Walk to Water' by Linda Sue Park,' she said.

The book is based on the true story of a young man from Sudan -- Salva Dut -- who ran away from violence plaguing that country and came to America. When the nation of South Sudan became independent, Dut returned to his village and helped them gain access to fresh, clean water.

“Our class read the book and did some activities about the things we read," Willis said. "We did lessons on water conservation and understanding how lucky we are to have running water because there are people all over the world who don’t have that luxury."

The story was similar to what Daniel Makoko went through. Makoko is an immigrant from Toloha, Tanzania who lives in Winterville.

“I’ve been involved with Banks Elementary in helping out the town I was born in," he said. "They have helped us with the water, helping our school and health clinic, and with the flood recovery. They have been very good friends to us.”

Makoko attended Grace Fellowship Church in Kinston. It was here he met up with Burt Rudolph, Gram Spear and Diane Spear; Rudolph and Gram Spear both work at Perry Management. After hearing Makoko’s story over the years, they decided to do something about it.

“It all started with Daniel," Rudolph said. "He attended my church and we became friends. It grew out of my passion to help them out. This is based on a long friendship of many years. It pressed up Gram, his wife and myself that we could do something to help out.”

Among the people who also attended Grace Fellowship included Willis and Ashley Hood, the  digital learning specialist at Banks. Hood served on the Toloha Project Board, a part of the Perry Management Group that deals with the ministry in Tanzania.

“The kids wanted to help out," Hood said. "When we started with the book, we had a fundraiser where the students would bring gallon milk jugs, filled them up with water, and then carried it around the school like they did in Toloha. The longer you do it, the heavier the jugs get. So, it helped them see what it is like to live like that.

"The class also did some outside projects learning about illnesses you can get by drinking dirty water.”

Hood said there were two "water walks" the church as done in conjunction with the Toloha Project in which they've visited the Neuseway Nature Center and simulated the walks with children.

 “It showed them how hard it is because they had to figure out how much water they’d need to get for cooking, cleaning, etc. to get through the day," Hood said. "Then they had to figure out how to carry all of that on their heads, on their backs and in their arms.”

Makoko said funds raised by the events raised enough money for his village to build a playground.

“When you go to Toloha, it is simply amazing to see the results,” Hood said. “Even just with the water alone, it has done so much for their self worth. They can take care of their families and be with them instead of spending hours fetching water. The community is stronger and healthier."

This past year, Hood went to Toloha to see how their work is going. She said bringing water was just the first step; enlarging the school and getting playground equipment for the children.

A flood in the spring affected Toloha; some of the money raised this eyar was used to help with repairs.

Other long-term plans for Toloha include building a community center that can double as a church, expanding the services of the clinic and making the village attractive to outsiders so they may move there.

“The main vision I had for my village was the water project. That is completed and has been very successful. Clean water flows into the town,” Makoko said. “Now I have other visions to help build up the school and clinic so that the village can grow and prosper. We really hope to work on the health care clinic so that we can provide great, modern health care to the people that otherwise would not have the chance to get any.

"Other people can come and move into the village from some of the surrounding areas.“

For Banks students who have worked on these projects over the years, they have made memories that will last a lifetime that show they are part of a bigger world. Several students offered their perspectives of their experiences below; the grades in parentheses is where they are now in their scholastic career.

  • Reena P. (10th grade): "My favorite activities were walking around the school and chanting, 'We walk so they don't have too' and participating in the water walk and getting to see what it's like."
  • Shane S. (10th grade): "After reading the book, 'A Long Walk for Water,' Mrs. Hood shared with me the Toloha Project. I was excited about helping raise money. We did activities at school to raise money, but I most enjoyed the water walk where we got to walk around with a gallon of water (similar to the people in Toloha.). All of us that participated in the walk really learned to appreciate their struggle and wanted to continue to raise money to help."
  • Susannah S. (sixth grade): "In the school, we raised awareness by putting up posters and raised money by hosting spirit days where students could wear special items like hats and team jerseys for a 50-cent donation. Teachers could also have jeans day for $2."
  • Anna R. (10th grade): "Getting the chance to be a part of the Toloha project helped make me aware of the fact that not all kids have the luxuries and opportunities that we have here. We often take things like school and clean water for granted. It was a very rewarding experience."
  • Davis H. (6th grade): "The first activity I think about is when we made dirty water! That activity allowed me to see exactly how they had to live and just how blessed I am. The dirty water activity showed me truly just how dirty that water really was. I was shocked. It made me wonder what was growing inside their bodies and how sick it made them feel."
  • Madelyn S. (10th grade): "The class carried jugs of water close to the size around the school to see what it was like to have to get water that way. Walking around the school made the biggest impression on me and I put myself in someone else's shoes and learning what they had to do to get water instead of just turning on a faucet. My arms were sore because the jugs of water got heavy quickly! We also had guest speakers come and talk with our class about water. " 
  • Sydney S. (10th grade): "We read a book about how hard it was to get water.  We also marched around the school and chanted. We collected change in boxes to help raise awareness and money for water in Toloha."

"This was so very much more than a math, reading, writing and geography lesson, although it was definitely all those and more under the academic label,” Hood said. "But I love that these awesome kids, and rest of the students at the school and the students that have been involved in the village before them, have learned so much through this challenge.

If you want to get involved, visit tolohapartnership.org; there is a place on the site for donations. If you want to get more deeply involved with the project, contact the Toloha Partnership at info@tolohapartnership.org.

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