“In the beginning, I thought it would be an easy project,” the 15-year-old said. “But, it has been hard, and there have been a lot of obstacles, but I’ve learned you just have to do things yourself, so we’ve just kept going.”
Bridges and several of her classmates have partnered with the Shine Uganda Ministries, a nonprofit orphanage and school for 100 less fortunate children in the African nation. The culmination of their $8,500 fundraising goal will be a “Wishing Well” carnival on May 4 at the Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Waynesville.
“I think it’s crazy that a bunch of high school kids can actually come together and work together for one goal, to put yourself aside and help others,” said classmate Kelly Parkins.
The campaign began last summer when the high school was approached by the nonprofit organization Jesus For Change that connects students in the United States with pen pals in Africa. English teacher Helen Pollifrome saw an opportunity to teach her students about global awareness.
“I think this project gives them a better sense of global awareness, that they see that we do live a very privileged life in America,” Pollifrome said. “It can be hard for the students to comprehend there are kids their age that don’t have clean water, and when they make that personal connection, their hearts just go out to them.”
Once they started writing their letters and seeing the photos of the African students online, Bridges noticed the kids carrying water buckets. She investigated further and found out some of them had to walk up to three miles just to retrieve one bucket of water. She soon started a coin drive within the school. In just a few days, $500 was raised — money that was eventually sent to Africa.
“The students really have enjoyed raising the funds,” Pollifrome said. “I think that’s because the project is being led by a student, one of their peers.”
But that wasn’t enough for Bridges. After sending a few emails, she found out they were in desperate need for a well. From there, she started putting together her plan for action.
“You can take a lot of things for granted living here,” she said. “I’m glad it’s finally all coming together, and it feels good to see these changes.”
Watching her students put together posters for the carnival, talking more ideas and just getting excited for the event, a jovial smile rolls across Pollifrome’s face.
“This is why I do what I do,” she said. “I can teach them to be better readers, better writers, but to see them take those skills and apply it to something they’re passionate about, well, that’s the best reward I can get.”
WNC native pursues Kenyan well project
Traveling through Kenya as part of his studies in social development at Western Carolina University, Andy Miller found his purpose.
During the trip, he bonded with and befriended Chris Pedo, a WCU international student advisor and native Kenyan, who accompanied the students to his home village.
“When Chris highlighted his personal story about living without basic needs, it just hit me deeply,” Miller said. “We go day-to-day and don’t understand what it’s like not to have water or access to clean water.”
The duo identified the nonprofit Water 4 Foundation, which helps communities build wells and educates community members on maintenance and upkeep.
“By helping this basic need, you also can eliminate certain disease by having that clean water to drink, to bathe in or for medical purposes,” said Miller, 22, who grew up in Waynesville.
Now graduated, Miller works in Raleigh as the legislative assistant to N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville. Miller is raising funds in an effort to provide clean water to more than 300 people in Kenya.
Oskar Blues Brewery will be hosting a bluegrass benefit at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at The Classic Wine Seller in Waynesville in hopes of raising the remaining $2,000 needed.
“For the amount we need, it’s amazing how far it can go to help hundreds of people get clean water that they need,” said Miller, who won the Newman’s Civic Fellows Award at WCU. “It’s a very small cost for a very big positive impact.”
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