Local students bring clean water to Ethiopia school

BRISTOL — A preschool in Ethiopia has potable drinking water, thanks to the efforts of two Addison County students half a world away.
Fifth-grader Carter Monk and third-grader Noah Konczal organized a 5K road race to raise money to repair the well at the Negat Kokeb preschool, in Hawassa, Ethiopia.
Konczal got the idea after his teacher at Monkton Central School, Stacey Carter, went to Ethiopia last February with a group of Addison County teachers as part of an exchange program.
After learning about the developing East African nation, Konczal approached Monk, who is Carter’s son, about raising money for the school, which did not have access to clean drinking water.
“We felt that everyone should have their basic needs, and water being such a huge one,” Monk said. “Especially for kids at such a young age; they can get sick from having dirty water.”
After brainstorming different ideas, the pair decided to host a 5K race on the streets of Monkton. They picked a date after school ended in June, so their classmates could participate.
“We felt a run was something we could manage, with just the two of us,” Monk said.
More than 50 runners signed up, and, ironically enough, a 15-year-old Ethiopian immigrant living in Burlington won the race (or perhaps that is not a surprise, as the country is known for producing world-class distance runners).
Through registration fees and donations, the boys raised more than $800.
“Some donations came from family and friends, but others came from people we didn’t have any connections with and just liked the idea,” Monk said. “People didn’t just come from Monkton and Bristol, but from all over the state.”
With the help of the nonprofit Willowell Foundation and the Ethiopia-based Action For Youth and Community Change, which Monk said were a huge help, the boys sent the money they raised to Africa later in the summer.
Monk said the money was enough for the school to hire six laborers to fix the well and add spigots.
“Now the kids can drink clean water there, where normally they had no water to go to the bathroom, to drink, nothing,” he said.
Throughout the process, Stacey Carter facilitated communication between the school and the boys. On New Year’s Eve, they received an email from the school with photographs of the new well, thanking them for helping each of the 250 students.
“We would like to thank you and want to say how much your support made an enormous difference to these children’s lives,” the letter reads. “It was these funds that created the base and encouragement to get a solution for such a big problem at the school.”
Monk said the access to clean water allows more students to attend the school, since parents were wary of sending their children to a facility without potable water.
He added that the project sparked discussions among his classmates at the Red Cedar School in Bristol about how their experience in education differs from students in Ethiopia. He learned a lot as well.
“I had no clue that we here can have such clean water, and some kids have none,” he said. “It taught me that some people have so little, and it’s hard to think about that.”
If given the opportunity to visit Ethiopia in the future, Monk said he would definitely go.
“I think it would be interesting to see what it’s like,” he said.
The well at Negat Kokeb may be repaired, but the boys are already looking forward to their next project.
“We are planning to try to do more for that school, or maybe even another school in that community,” Monk said.
They’ve started a website, www.joyfultogether.org, to raise awareness about their work. Monk expanded on why the boys chose that name.
“We call ourselves that because we try to be joyful with them, and trying to create joy together as kids,” he said.
Reflecting on the experience, Monk said both he and Konczal felt proud to be able to help out fellow students, even if they are almost 7,000 miles away.
“We feel that it’s right for everyone’s basic needs to be met; here, in our country, everywhere,” he said. “If people have the chance to make things better, why not go for it?”

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