Watering the Planet

At NCS, we like to kick off each year in the high school with a fully-integrated problem-based unit.  To define my terms:  by “integrated,” I mean, “something that draws from all the disciplines at one time.”  And “problem-based” simply means that we look to real events and current problems for our inspiration. We cancel regular classes to ask the students to study in groups, learn like “real people” learn (you find what you need and put that knowledge to work on a real issue), and come up with realistic solutions that can be implemented by NCS students for our own community.

Four years ago we attempted our first problem-based unit by asking the high schoolers to tackle the problem in Darfur and suggest something we could do. They met with lowcal experts in related fields and organized, managed, and executed a public awareness event about the Darfur problem. I was super proud of their groundwork in laying a foundation for future successful units. (I have an album of photos from the event on Facebook.)

Our next project, in 2008, divided up the students into little families and arbitrarily assigned one member of each “family” a chronic disease. This very-real investigation into the health care crisis sharpened the kids’ understanding of the health care debate that had shaped the McCain-Obama election campaigns. A real-world simulation powerfully made its point.   

Last year we focused on the problems that the elderly face. That project was short, but it nicely dove-tailed into supporting the widows’ ministry that the NCS seniors manage as their senior project. (If you know of any local widows who need help, contact the school office or one of the seniors.)

This year, the faculty came up with another global issue for the students to sink their teeth into:  Water.

  • Did you know that half of all patients in hospitals world-wide are there due to water-borne illness?
  • Did you know that 72% of the water-gathering necessary in developing cultures where water is scarce is done by women
  • And that the hundreds of thousands of hours of lost productivity caused by this basic drudgery for women is equal to the COMBINED productivity of EVERY employee at EVERY Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, UPS, Target, and Kroger store each week?
  • Did you know that the average person in the developing world has only 31 liters of water a day for washing, cooking, and drinking?  In contrast, the average American uses 200 or more liters of water just to shower, plus more for drinking and cooking. Your bathtub holds about 150 liters. 
  • Every 20 seconds a child dies of a water-borne illness like diarrhea.
  • Nearly 75% of the water usage in the world goes to agriculture. Many countries literally waste water to grow crops or care for livestock.
  • It takes about 1,000 liters of water to grow a kilo of rice or wheat. It takes about 13,000 liters to get a kilo of beef. 
  • In fact, every day, YOUR American food (a diet rich in meat) costs about 5,000 liters of water to produce.  That’s in addition to the 200 liters you used in the shower this morning.
  • Only a tiny percentage of the global water projects (drilling wells, installing water treatment pods) are maintained or inspected once the rich benefactors do the initial installation.  
  • Water scarcity is a very local problem. It’s hard to get water to places where it’s scarce.  It’s also a complex problem, complicated by economic, political, scientific, and biological factors.

If you’d like to know more about the water problem, the UNICEF site is very useful.

Today, we kicked off the unit by telling the high schoolers that a water main break had rendered the building’s water sources temporarily unsafe. Meanwhile we invited them all to partake of a special snack break stocked with lots of dry, salty foods.  

Debbie started quoting facts and figures like I’ve listed above and we divided the kids into 4 research groups and handed them stacks of articles to read.  Before lunch, everyone gathered to pour 31 liters into a bathtub behind the science classroom.  That’s not much water … not when a bathtub holds 150+ liters. Yet that’s the average water consumption per person per day in the developing world. 

By the end of the day, everyone was thoughtful, tired, and focusing on solutions.  I think some good ideas will emerge. Some great charities out there are putting easy-to-maintain water treatment kids on the ground all over Africa and India.  Julianna is going back to Kenya next summer to help drill wells. Many of the kids really want to help get the word out about the problem at events like the Midnight Flight in Anderson next month.

Kingdom work.  It’s not rocket science, usually.
It’s hearing about a problem …. caring about people’s bodies AND souls…. doing something to push back the brokenness of this world…. 

Just do it. 

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