The Origins of ISB’s Walk for Water
by Nancy Woodruff, President of the ISB Board of Trustees
I’ll never forget my first encounter with Kids for Kids’ founder Patricia Parker. We were living in London at the time, and my four-year-old son came from school one day with an important message: “In Darfur, the kids have to walk really, really, far to get water and we need to send them money so they can have water and a goat!” His seven-year-old sister was able to fill in a few of the blanks: in Darfur, Sudan, children had to walk as many as seven hours from their villages to collect water for their families. Because of the conflict in Darfur, it was safer for children to go than for adults, who might be attacked or killed on their journey. If only they could have a hand pump in their village, they could have access to clean water without the long and treacherous journey.
I attended Patricia Parker’s next Kids for Kids presentation, and I have never since met anyone who can make such an impression on children. She has an unparalleled way of making them understand the experiences of children in far away Darfur, of making them empathize, and of persuading them to take action. She had founded Kids for Kids in 2001 after she met a 9-year-old boy in Sudan walking through the desert for water, and she shared her message with many schools and organizations in England. Southbank, my children’s school, organized a yearly Wheel-a-thon with a local school for disabled children, and the children wheeled—on scooters, bikes or wheelchairs—around a local track to raise money for Kids for Kids. Also, when international families moved on to their next posting each year, Southbank donated a goat in their name.
When we moved to Brooklyn a number of years later, I was keen to introduce Kids for Kids to my children’s New York schools. My older children organized a presentation and fundraiser at their school, and Owen, not yet six, also wanted to help. At that time, ISB was a tiny, four-year-old school located over a dry cleaner in Prospect Heights, and the oldest children in the school were 7 or 8. Patricia came from England and gave a presentation to ISB, and we organized our first Walk for Water. Forty children, many accompanied by their parents, walked from ISB to the pond in Prospect Park. It was a hot September day, and the walk felt so long that one child was convinced we were walking to Sudan. When we got to the pond, we filled an empty milk with the water and started our journey back. At first, the children felt proud to carry the jug, but after a few minutes they were trying to pass the heavy, eight pound jug off to one another. This was experiential learning at its best.
When ISB moved to Court Street, Prospect Park was too far, so we tried to think of another way to have a Walk for Water. Walk to the Gowanus? No. When we thought of doing the laps around the block with each child carrying a jug of water, we wondered if it would have the same effect. It turned out that the children loved this activity, and it has become an important ISB ritual. This year, for our sixth Walk for Water, 180 children participated, and we were lucky enough to have Patricia Parker come again from England and speak to both the children and the parents. After her visit, Patricia wrote to me, “Seeing your children’s determination to walk as far as they possibly could, to raise money to help children their own age, so far away, was inspirational. I came back from Brooklyn reinspired by your children, and I want to thank all of you for giving me the courage to go on. “
Children who were three or four at the first Walk for Water are now ten or eleven years old; some of the earliest Walkers have even graduated. But the message of the Walk for Water stands clear: what is as simple as turning on the faucet here can be incredibly difficult, dangerous and sometimes deadly in other places in the world, including Darfur. As global citizens, ISB children understand and empathize with these children and are proud to do what they can to bring water, goats, trees and other important things to their counterparts across the world.