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Chagrin Falls Middle School won the Iron Giraffe Challenge Super School Award by raising $25,576.47 – the highest amount out of any school in the country – for Water for South Sudan. 

Water for South Sudan is a nonprofit charity whose mission is to deliver sustainable quality-of-life services to and with the people of South Sudan by efficiently providing access to clean, safe water, and improving hygiene and sanitation practices in areas of great need. 

The fundraising efforts begin when students read the book, A Long Walk to Water, about the Lost Boys of Sudan, who must walk miles for water. After reading the book, students do supplementary research, make flyers, and spread the word to family and friends to help support their cause.

“The kids get inspired by that book,” Intervention Specialist Brian Johnson said, adding that he enjoys watching their enthusiasm for the cause. 

This past February, two wells were built in Sudan with the money that was raised. This makes a total of three wells the middle school has raised enough money for. There are hopes to build a fourth well after this year’s fundraising efforts. They are only $7,400 away. Each well costs $15,000 to build.

The school has never won this particular award before.

Mr. Johnson said the students are excited about winning the competition also because they will have a video call with Salva Dut, the person who created the charity Water for South Sudan. 

Mr. Dut’s life was changed forever at 11 years old when his last lesson of the school day was interrupted when civil war broke out in his rural village in southwestern Sudan. He was separated from his family and joined thousands of other boys, famously known as the “Lost Boys,” on their journey by foot to seek safety in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. 

After spending a decade in refugee camps, Mr. Dut moved to Rochester, New York. Several years later, he learned that his father was still alive in South Sudan, suffering with a disease caused by waterborne parasites. His father’s illness inspired him to help his father and his country by bringing clean water to those in need. 

“They feel a sense of accomplishment that they were able to raise enough money to build these two wells to help people in South Sudan who don’t have it as good as they do,” Mr. Johnson said. 

Each year, the seventh-grade team launches this interdisciplinary project, combining STEM, art, and literacy programming, as they organize in hopes of raising enough funds to install groundwater wells in villages of South Sudan. 

Their efforts culminate with the Cardboard Regatta fundraiser, which will take place this year the morning of June 2 at the Chagrin Valley Recreation Center pool. Students are currently forming teams and organizing their fundraising efforts. Students will be sending out links to their fundraising pages within the next few weeks. 

The students use elements from different school subjects throughout the project, like geometric netting for the creation of their boats, understanding buoyancy with science, and the evolution of boat designs throughout history. Students also incorporate marketing and public speaking techniques as they advertise their project to local businesses and members of the community for donations toward their fundraisers.

“This project is inspiring for so many reasons,” Principal Laila Discenza said. “The teachers work collaboratively to create meaningful, relevant connections while students work toward a common goal and develop deep understanding in global empathy. Community members donate and support and the outcome is fresh water access for those in need. What a wonderful way we all come together. It’s a true experience for all involved.”

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