Student-led charity walk helps support safe drinking water

By Kelsey Gilchrist and Jordan Lewis

When Reyanna Reid and Dehanna Aldridge of Downsview Secondary School joined their school’s WE club, it marked some significant firsts for the two friends. Embarking on their senior year, the shy duo wanted to find a way to both become more involved in their school and make a difference in the world. While passionate, they were also nervous. This would be their first time joining a school club and their first time leading change on a global cause.

When the WE Club’s newest members heard about its WE Walk for Water fundraising campaign, they were excited. Together with their classmates, they would be able to spark positive change by walking in support of global clean water programs—just one of the action campaigns members take on through the club’s WE Schools service-learning curriculum. The walk would symbolize the long journeys that residents in rural areas of Tanzania must take daily as a means of collecting clean water for their families. This chore is especially an obstacle for the region’s female population—the ones typically tasked with the duty—as it prevents girls from attending school and limits women’s opportunity to earn a sustainable income.

The girls’ enthusiasm, though, matched their nerves around not only stepping out of their shells, but asking for donations. As Dehannah explains, other club members felt the same. “They’re a little bit shy about asking for money.

With many students at Downsview Secondary School participating in the school’s subsidized breakfast program and facing financial challenges of their own, it’s not difficult to understand why. Still, the students came together to help others in needs—despite their own circumstances. After WE Club members began raising student awareness around global water issues, the funds started to roll in. When students learned about the importance of developing clean water projects in rural Tanzania, they wanted to help make it happen.

No longer nervous about being first-time club members and fundraisers, Reyanna and Dehanna went from participants in the WE Walk for Water campaign to its leaders. The club’s advisor, teacher Monica De Jersey, is proud as she recalls the girls’ transformation over the month of action planning for the campaign. She recalls how the two “charged into” the club’s lunch-hour meetings, overflowing with advice and ideas to share. “It was great for the others to see their confidence.”

For the educator, acting as club advisor is about subtle guidance. Her approach is to allows students the chance to develop a sense of passion and ownership over each project. “A lot of it is sort of taking a step back and letting them take-charge,” she says. “I’m almost more of an observer.”

The day of the water walk, Dehannah and Reyanna came prepared. Ever the determined change-makers, the pair took on the 16-kilometer, four-hour walk from their school in northwestern Toronto to WE’s downtown headquarters at the WE Global Learning Centre with positivity and a clear sense of purpose that inspired others participating in the walk.

Even as the day wore on and fatigue began to take hold, the students remained upbeat and cheerful, the air punctuated with laughter and words of encouragement. As they marched closer to their goal, it was clear that in addition to the outcomes their fundraising efforts would yield overseas, the project was also having a transformative impact on the students themselves. Giving back is empowering and for these Downsview Secondary School students, it has nurtured inimitable feelings of accomplishment and togetherness.

With every step Dehannah and Reyanna took on their water walk, they discovered a new sense of confidence. They—like the other club members—now have the leadership skills to inspire fellow students to change the world alongside them and won’t be afraid to take on global causes again.

As Dehannah and Reyanna arrived at their destination and pushed through the doors of the WE Global Learning Centre, it’s clear to all present, wherever they find themselves next, they’ll be able to take on new challenges the same way they took on this one—fearlessly.

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