BATH, Maine — Water is a luxury, students in Tammy Baxter’s fourth-grade class at Fisher Mitchell School have learned, and they’re taking action way beyond participating in a classroom lesson.
Propelling their efforts just in time for summer is a one-of-a-kind ice cream flavor made by a Maine manufacturer.
Inspired by the story of a 9-year-old girl who tried to bring clean water to undeveloped countries only to have her efforts cut short when she died in a fatal car crash, and spurred by the knowledge that thousands of people die every day from waterborne illnesses, the students are in the midst of a $5,000 fundraising effort. The goal is to fund the installation of a well near a school somewhere in Africa.
“There are more than a billion people in the world who don’t have enough clean water,” said Baxter to her class on Friday, but she wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t already know.
The fourth-graders already had printed and marketed T-shirts and presented their project to the wider student body. Money is trickling in from numerous sources, ranging from Fisher Mitchell students who donate portions of their weekly allowances to people from across the country and around the world who are supporting the project on a website run by an organization called Charity Water.
Just three weeks after starting their fundraising, the students already have more than $2,200 banked toward their $5,000 goal, with about two months left before their deadline.
A key element behind their successful efforts is, of all things, ice cream. Over the winter the students devised an ice cream flavor called H2O — which stands for both water and “Help To Others” — and made arrangements to have the bright-blue-colored concoction manufactured by Sanford-based ice cream maker Shain’s of Maine. H20 is for sale at several retail locations throughout southern Maine and by the scoop at Dot’s Ice Cream Shop in downtown Bath.
“I just thought it was a great cause and something I want to be involved in,” said Jeff Shain, owner of the ice cream company, who also helped the students print their T-shirts. “It’s nice to be at a stage in my company where I can do things like this. After all, there are people out there supporting us by buying our products.”
In gearing up for the project, the students have learned that about half of all the schools in the world don’t have drinking water and that for some, finding enough water to stay hydrated is an hours-long ordeal.
For student Caleb McDougal, a little math puts the remaining $2,800 goal into an attainable perspective.
“If every kid in our school donated $20, we’d get there,” he said.
The project started when Baxter saw a segment on a CNN show called “CNN Heroes — Young Wonders” about 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith of Washington state. Beckwith took it upon herself to raise $300 to bring clean drinking water to Third World countries. But tragically, Beckwith died in a car crash in August 2011. Her parents opted to continue the fundraiser after the girl’s death, which to date has netted more than $1.2 million.
Within 24 hours of seeing the show, Baxter had brought her students on board.
“I really felt that this would bring not only our class together and solidify our community, but bring our school in a culture of providing something that is so needed in this world, and that is water,” said Baxter.
The exact location that will benefit from the project has not yet been determined, but Baxter said she expects it to be somewhere in Africa or Latin America.
Mary Sreden, whose daughter Zoe is in Baxter’s class, is the owner of Dot’s Ice Cream Shop in Bath. She said the H20 ice cream is selling strongly — especially among children — and is sought after by people who know about the fundraising effort.
Sreden said she has seen the results of the associated lessons in her own home.
“This has definitely opened my daughter’s eyes to the fact that there are children who are suffering,” said Sreden. “I’ve noticed that she’s being a lot more careful with her water use, such as taking shorter showers. She’s learning that clean water may not be here forever.”
Fourth-grader Gage Varian said he’s learning about the power of a team effort, even among elementary school students.
“We are really doing this,” he said. “Other classes wish they were doing this. If every class did this, we would be raising so much money.”
For information about the Fisher Mitchell School’s H2O project, visit mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=24624.