As a young girl in Burkina Faso, Georgie Badiel walked for three hours each morning to fetch clean water. After moving to the United States about a decade ago, she went back to her home country in Western Africa to visit her pregnant sister, who still had to get up between 2 and 4 a.m. to retrieve the scarce resource.
“That was the wake-up call for me to start making a change,” Badiel said.
A model who won the title of Miss Africa in 2004 and now lives in New York, Badiel started the Georgie Badiel Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing access to clean drinking water throughout Burkina Faso. She was the inspiration for “The Water Princess,” a children’s book written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds that was released last year.
Sixty sixth-graders in Angela Abend’s Project Extra class and students from Oceanside High School’s World Interest Club welcomed Badiel to the district on March 1, and presented the foundation with a $2,000 check. The donation culminated three months of students fundraisers and bottle collections as part of an interscholastic recycling project. Second-graders from Boardman Elementary School also took part, raising $120 for the foundation by collecting and recycling 2,000 water bottles.
“The majority of the money … that we donated came from five cents at a time,” said senior Andrew Carlins, an officer of the World Interest Club, who had done a similar presentation as a Project Extra student years ago. “Doing that action over and over again is extremely rewarding, because you get to see how what you’re doing not only helps your environment and helps clean up Oceanside, but also Burkina Faso and other international locations.”
Project Extra students and WIC members took the high school’s auditorium stage during the roughly 90-minute presentation to explain the global water issue. It included a student-produced video reading of “The Water Princess,” as well as information about the lack of access to clean water in Burkina Faso and around the world, and the impact of such a global water crisis. Nieve LaRocca, a Spanish teacher at Oceanside High, concluded the presentation by recounting her childhood in the Dominican Republic, during which her family relied on rain and stream water for drinking.
Badiel watched from the front row.
“I was very inspired by them, because we live in a country where we have access to water everywhere we go,” Badiel said. “I can easily take a shower without thinking. I can wash my dishes without thinking. I can have as many glasses of water as I want without thinking. It made me understand that those kids, they actually are thinking that it’s important to give back. ... It was just so beautiful … I couldn’t speak.”
About three million of the roughly 18 million people in Burkina Faso lack access to a clean water source, according to WaterAid America, and more than 2,800 children under 5 years old die in the country each year as a result of dirty water. The students broadened the scope of the issue, telling the audience that 780 million people encounter this lack of access worldwide, and even analyzed the recent water crisis in Flint, Mich.
Junior Josena Joseph, also an officer in the WIC, said the most important part of the event was having Badiel in attendance, as it emphasized that the problem is real and affects actual people. She added that collaborating with the younger students was key to truly delving into the project.
“The way that I understand an issue, the way you understand an issue is not going to be how they understand it,” Joseph said, “and so combining all those different world views really allowed us to understand the topic to the highest level.”
After Badiel thanked the teachers, children and administrators, droves of children gathered around her. She spoke with them, gave them high fives and signed their shirts.
“She is truly a beacon of light, and the children were not only drawn to her story, but to her,” Abend said. “The students learned that they, too, can make a difference in the world from one who has made it her life’s mission to do so.”
Sixth-grader Megan Checola, who greeted guests as they arrived, said she was thrilled that she came.
“Once we saw her come in, it was kind of unreal, because we didn’t know that it was possible … to actually make a change in the world,” Megan said. “Most people think, well they’re only kids, so they can’t really change the world. But right now, we just proved whoever thought that wrong, and that ‘s something that can really set you on a path for your life.”
Badiel told the Herald that though her foundation helps people in Burkina Faso by building and restoring wells, a permanent solution is still being explored. She emphasized that life is about helping others.
“This generation — our generation — is the one that is going to make the change,” she said. “We’re the future, and the future is starting today.”