Each semester at Ballard County Middle School, all students read a novel as a group.
This spring, they read "A Long Walk to Water," author Linda Sue Park's story about the lengths to which people will go in order to survive. In it, a young Sudanese girl named Nya works hard to get water for her family, often spending entire days walking to and from the nearest pond to collect the dirty water.
To demonstrate how difficult it would be, BCMS Principal Amber Parker said she asked one the strongest students to walk around the cafeteria holding a container filled with water weighing 37 pounds. After 2 minutes he was struggling. Children in Uganda walk 2 hours one way, gather the water, and carry the water back to their village. "This was an eye-opening activity for our students," she said.
The school district's mission statement reads: "In partnership with and in service to our community, the mission of Ballard County Schools is to prepare every student to be a successful individual." To meet that district goal of service, BCMS decided to host an annual color run to raise awareness and funds for a local charity. The first one was held last year, and was such a huge success that students decided to make it an annual event in May.
After their reading, and their experiences, the students chose Beyond Uganda as their charity of choice this year. "We reached out to the charity Beyond Uganda, explaining that we wanted to partner with them and raise money for their clean water wells campaign. These wells provide safe, clean, water for not just one family, but for an entire community. One well serves nearly 1,000 people per day," said BCMS Principal Amber Parker. "Beyond Uganda put us in contact with Peter Mutabazi, author of 'Now I Am Known: How a Street Kid from Uganda Turned Foster Dad Found Acceptance and True Worth.' At age 10, Peter ran away from home and for years he survived on the streets of Kampala, Uganda. Mr. Mutabazi did a Zoom conference with our students, and was able to speak first-hand about the difficulties and dangers he encountered to get water for his family," Parker continued. "To read about it is one thing, but to hear directly from someone who had experienced it made a HUGE impact on our students."
On May 15, 100 runners - including staff and students - participated in the run. With the help of community members and sponsors, the group raised over $10,000 this year.
The money will allow Beyond Uganda to dedicate three new wells. BCMS chose to dedicate one in memory of eighth-grader Coleson Vaughn, who lost his life in a car accident in November 2022; one in memory of eighth-grader Hudson Pace, who lost his 27-month battle with cancer just two days before the run; and one in honor of BCMS 2022-23.
"BCMS blew us away with their enthusiasm and generosity with the color run," said Capulan Gurrola, Beyond Uganda's executive director. "They were able to raise enough money for three clean water wells that will serve three separate communities and provide clean water to over 5,000 people. The villages are vulnerable - many children don't live to see the age of 2 due to water borne illness. This is not only life-changing, but life-saving."
Eighth-grade language arts teacher Kayla Vance said, "One of the life lessons I try to teach my students is that although they are living a life of their own, they should live in a way that is about more than just themselves. That's why it's so important to do activities like our annual Color Run. It's a way for students to give to others through a bit of effort and having fun along the way.
"I love the quote for this year's Walk for Water," Vance continued. "'Every step you take is one they won't have to.' How life-changing is that!"
In addition to participating in the run, students raised money by calling local businesses and asking them to sponsor the event. This year's sponsors included Ballard County Farm Bureau, Citizens Deposit Bank, First Community Bank of the Heartland, Giving Tree Boutique, James Marine Inc., and White Brothers Construction. They also solicited donations via social media posts.
"I am already so excited about next year's event," Parker said. "Several business owners already have reached out wanting to be involved. We will be adding Smokey D's and Newtons Roll Off Dumpsters and Pressure Washing to the color stations. If you want to add your business to the roll, please contact us at BCMS and we will get you added to the list."
Giving Tree owner Christy Webster said, "Grace and I look forward to the BCMS color run. It is a great time for us and the students! We love seeing the BCMS students participate in charity events. We encourage all businesses to get involved next year."