From my window, I see rolling green hills, patches of trees and scattered houses. The scene is not of beautiful Chautauqua County but a snapshot of Kyotera, Uganda, in central Africa. About 50 miles south of the equator, it is a small town which acts as my base during research and work in nearby villages. I've been volunteering in Africa since 2000, and many of my projects center around the importance of water and the environment. To truly appreciate the importance of water, you need only to meet those who live without access to clean, safe water, like the women I met yesterday who spend two hours each day collecting and treating water for their families.
For the past four years, I have been working to help a primary school in the village of Bethlehem in this district, which is composed of 630 students, more than 300 of which are orphans. When I first came, the children were walking a few miles every day to carry water from a dirty pond that also acted as a watering hole for cattle. The water was boiled and strained through cloth before being used for cooking or drinking, but dysentery and cholera were a constant problem. Today, the school has two wells and a rainwater collection system which provide clean water sufficient for drinking, cooking and bathing for the children of the school and local residents, except during the dry season when water is scarce. It's a big change, but there is still not enough water for irrigation of all important crops.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has been working with seventh-grade students at Falconer Central School on the study of global water issues. These local students sent videos, photos and brochures they produced on their lives and their research on water to the students here at Bethlehem Parents School. I presented their information and taught the primary school students about global water issues. Working with the seventh-graders here in Africa (known as the P 7 class), we tested the water in the main well with a water test kit donated by CWC, and the students enjoyed watching the chemical reactions as the tests proved they are drinking safe water. We discussed the importance of keeping their ditches clean and controlling erosion as well as the importance of plants as filters for water. During a drenching rainstorm, I had the opportunity to talk to the Primary 7 class about runoff and replenishing the aquifer, as we watched the dusty school grounds turn into rivers of mud.
Students from the Bethlehem Parents School in Kyotera, Uganda, stand in front of one of two wells that helps to provide them with clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Photo by Deb Naybor
Perhaps these children have a greater appreciation of water than we do back home in New York because of the scarcity they live with, especially during increasing drought, but this opportunity reminded me of the global connection of water. The natural systems which move water don't understand borders or political differences between nations. A drop of water in Mayville may travel through our watershed to join rivers and oceans which are connected to coastal areas around the globe. Or it may evaporate to be carried through the atmosphere to fall as rain on beans growing in a small garden in Africa, providing food for a needy family. The actions we take on earth are not isolated, and we have the responsibility to remember that the watershed we live in is part of an intricate worldwide system. Protecting the water which flows through the Chautauqua watershed is a big responsibility. We are all stewards of the earth and good practices at home influence the rest of the planet.
Falconer Central School seventh-graders are setting an excellent example. They have been learning about water quality and conservation and calculated their own ''water footprint'' of water use. They have connected with Bethlehem Parents School and are raising funds to provide a water irrigation system for the school's farm, which grows 40% percent of the school's food and is expected to increase its yield by 50 percent with irrigation. Bethlehem Parents School students have sent letters and gifts for the Falconer students in appreciation for their assistance and through water, a bond has been formed across 7,000 miles. These kids, in both locations, are champion watershed stewards because they have made a commitment to protecting and conserving water for generations to come. You can join them by taking action to preserve shoreline, create natural buffers, protects streams, eliminate toxic fertilizers and control runoff right here in Chautauqua, our little corner of this amazing, interconnected planet.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.