Edmonton students get hands dirty in lesson about global water insecurity

More than 500 students at Lillian Osborne High School walked 10 kilometres to get water in a lesson about global water insecurity Monday.

'Every single day people are worried about how they are going to get water'

Lillian Osborne students and staff fill water jugs on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. (John Robertson/CBC)

It's a long and sometimes muddy hike to get to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River from Lillian Osborne High School in the Terwillegar neighbourhood.

More than 500 students, including some from Ormsby elementary school, carrying jugs and singing songs made the 10-kilometre round trip as part of the fourth annual Water for Life event.

"Every single day, people are worried about how they are going to get water," said social studies teacher Rogers Mokua.
Grade 10 social studies teacher Rogers Mokua grew up in Kenya where he made the trek for water twice a day. (John Robertson/CBC)

Mokua made the journey twice a day as a child growing up in Kenya. He now passes on his teenage experiences to his students about water security.

"They don't know how fortunate they are living in Canada where by, whenever they wake up in the morning, they have clean water, warm water, to take a shower, cold water straight from the fridge to drink and for other home use," he said.

"I had to tell them stories about not just me, how many people in different parts of the world ... face this issue."
Students pass the jugs of water up a human chain on the muddy bank before making the five-kilometre journey back to school. (John Robertson/CBC)

Students formed a chain on the muddy river bank to pass empty jugs down to those filling them.

The long hike back carrying the full jugs was the most difficult part of the exercise, said Grade 12 student Mike Zhang, who is on his third Water for Life walk.

"Expect mud, expect hills and expect to get a little frustrated but in the end, if you keep your chin up, you will have a lot of fun."

The hands-on approach takes the message from the classroom and into the real world, he said.

"A little part of me was a bit naive and thought, 'Hey, I know that some kids have to travel to wells and stuff but maybe they go once a week, have like to carry a massive tub.' But no, it is every day for some kids and that was a bit eye opening for me," Zhang said.
Students demonstrate the filtration of the murky river water. (John Robertson/CBC)

After carrying the water jugs back to school, the students poured them into a filtration system, a step millions around the world must do to get clean water.

The Water for Life event is also a fundraiser for the Mission of Mercy Canada. In the four years that Lillian Osborne students have made the walk, they have raised $25,000 to purchase biosands water filtration systems.

"For me it is about experiential learning," said organizer Lisa Beebe, with Edmonton Public Schools.

"It is not just a teacher standing in front of the room. It's all about the students for me and when you can see the impact that this has ... it is showing them that it is meaningful," Beebe said.
Jugs of water sit outside Lillian Osborne High School waiting for filtration. (John Robertson/CBC)

About the Author

John Robertson

Video journalist

John Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. He has been with CBC News for more than a decade, with stints in Nunavut, Edmonton and Prince Edward Island. Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @johnrobertsoncbc