Mainstreams: Changing lives one African village at a time


by Sue Austreng
Contributing Writer
Gleefully grateful and eager to express their exuberant joy, children living in the East African villages of Luduga and Mtapa danced and sang “Wells are water! Water is life!”

Photo by Sue Austreng
Beck Cleaveland, Liam and Landon Marsh and Natalie Barringer watch a slide show with their teachers and react to the grateful glee expressed by east African children and villagers for whom they helped raise money so that wells could be dug. Those wells were made possible thanks to One Week One Well efforts and money raised by Elk River school students. The wells will supply much-needed water for the desert people living in and around the villages of Mtapa and Luduga.

The celebration flowed from grateful hearts after One Week One Well dug wells in the Tanzanian desert, making fresh water easily accessible to villagers who live there – and enhancing health and improving life all around.

Students in Elk River area schools helped make the well-digging project possible by increasing awareness and raising funds via the One Week One Well initiative. In fact, wells in Luduga and Mtapa were named in honor of Lincoln and Meadowvale elementary school students after those students raised more money than anyone else for the project.

“It’s cool to be able to give money so they can get what they need and don’t have to struggle. All we had to do was give up something – maybe the money you would use to buy a soda at McDonald’s. Just do that for a week and see what a difference you can make in the world,” said Meadowvale student council member Natalie Barringer.

Longtime Elk River school teacher Jill Pouliot facilitated the One Week One Well efforts and earlier this summer she traveled to Tanzania to visit the wells.

“When we told them school kids were the ones who raised the money to dig the wells, the whole crowd cheered and clapped. There were children, headmasters, the mayor – lots of important people – and they all cheered. It was amazing,” Pouliot said.

Photo courtesy of Jill Pouliot
Early stages of One Week One Well well-drilling project in east Africa.

She even got to taste the water from the well.

“It was a very cool experience when I got to taste the water from the well. It was very emotional. I wept. … They wouldn’t have water without you guys. You did this for them,” she told the Elk River students.

Always eager to help those in need, Pouliot told students the One Week One Well project is life-changing for those living where water is scarce.

In order to increase their understanding of how difficult it can be to get water in water-starved areas, Elk River students filled gallon buckets with water and ran relay races, mimicking the task of hiking two miles to reach the river, filling a bucket with water, then carrying it back to their village.

The students also heard some life stories and learned some history of the East Africa region so that they increased their awareness of the need even while they increased their fund-raising efforts to relieve that need.

Photo courtesy of Jill Pouliot
Children sing and dance their thanksgiving for the well dug in the east African village of Luduga.

“You ask ‘How is life changed because of these wells?’ Well, now kids don’t have to walk all the way down to the river – and that might be a mile, two miles each way. And they don’t have to search for water if the river is dry. They just pump water from the well in the village and that means now they have time. Now they can go to school, they can study, they can do laundry, they can have a garden, they can play. Life is so much fuller,” Pouliot said.

Well water also makes it possible for villagers to make bricks by mixing water and clay. And making bricks makes it possible to build houses, medical clinics and more.

“I was excited to do this so they can get clean water and don’t have to be sick all the time,” said Meadowvale grade 5 student Liam Marsh.

His schoolmate said she was happy to help, too.

“We can’t change the world, but we can change one village. We might never meet these people but still, we got to make a difference,” Natalie said, smiling at the thought of the difference students made with One Week One Well.

Photo courtesy of Jill Pouliot
A Mtapa village woman carries a bucket of fresh, clean water —life-giving liquid pumped from a well dug by One Week One Well.

Pouliot started One Week One Well in Elk River schools four years ago and extends a welcome to others who may want to help make life-changing differences in areas where water is scarce.

“A lot of times we are globally aware but have no chance to do anything. With One Week One Well, these young people are already changing the world. They are making a difference,” Pouliot said.

She then offered a challenge, “If everyone took the money they use for beverages — coffee, water, soda – and gave that money we could solve this,” she said.

To learn more about One Week One Well, find One Week One Well on Facebook.