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How students can promote water sanitation

Teach For Australia Thursday, September 8th, 2016

This semester, Associate Amanda Neilson (Cohort 2015) has been teaching ‘Water and the World’ to her Year 7 Geography class at Shepparton High School, Victoria. The unit covers everything from the water cycle through to sanitation and sustainability in Australia and overseas.

“One of my key priorities this year,” she said, “has been to incorporate personal and social development, as well as intercultural understanding into our lessons. This is so crucial when living in a multicultural town like Shepparton.”

So, in an effort to combine these two priorities in her lessons, she took her class out on to the oval for a lesson in collaboration with the PE staff. The students had 20kg weights that they planned to carry for over 3kms, mimicking the walk to water that Ugandan students their age have to make every day before school.

“We only made it 1500m before class finished!” she said.

Framing the lesson around empathy really opened the students’ eyes to the burdens shouldered by young people like them, who happened to be born in places where water sanitation and availability was a gift, not a given.

“After this class,” Amanda said, “the students were quite determined to use what they had to provide clean and safe water to children like them.”


7C with their teacher, Amanda, and the weights they carried.

The class worked together with Amanda to research different ways in which they could help, and students split into groups to champion different water sanitation programs. Each group then presented the case for their organisation or cause and the class voted for their preferred choice.

Options ranged from funding the building of a well to providing portable filters, but the class ultimately voted to provide water hygiene kits for survivors of natural disasters.

“The thing that shocked us most was knowing that kids have to walk for a long time just to get water for their families,” said Abbie and Hayley, who are now Co-Chairs of the Class 7C Fundraising Committee.

“We want to raise over $800, which would let us donate hygiene kits to 40 families, but if we raise more then that’s even better.”

After looking at a range of options including a cake stall and crowd-funding online, the students decided that the most effective way to raise money would be for them to dress up in silly costumes every day for a week. Other students and staff from Shepparton High will sponsor the students, and raise money for the cause.

“Both staff and students have been really supportive,” said Amanda. “This time of year can be very challenging for everyone, especially as our Year 12 students head in to exams.

It’s really great to be able to bring something positive and worthwhile to the broader school community.”

Amanda is incredibly proud of her students, who have done all the hard work on this project themselves.

“It’s a really joyful moment when students surprise you with something like this,” she said.


The students carrying their weights on the oval.

She added that it’s rare, in teaching, to actually be able to sit back and watch students create something incredible using their own initiative.

“I’m so proud of them all for seeing this through to fruition, and not just letting it become another ‘someday’ idea.”

Abbie and Hayley would like to see fundraisers like this happening more widely.

“I reckon other people should do this,” Abbie said, “because if they raise another $800, then that’s 80 families that we can help. I think it would make them feel happy to know that people from different countries care about them.”

“I feel good because I get to save people’s lives. It makes me proud to know that we’re doing something not for ourselves, but for families that might die because of the yucky water,” said Hayley.

The students will be holding their fundraiser next week, and Amanda will be taking over Teach For Australia’s Instagram account for the week to share their crazy outfits.

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