SHERIDAN — The public is invited to the Tongue River High School auditorium Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. to learn about the TRHS Book Club’s recent community service project that has contributed to the building of water wells in South Sudan.
The TRHS-Tongue River Branch Library Book Club has been in existence for several years. Each quarter of the school year, participating students from freshmen to seniors read and discuss a book as a group.
“You get to know people more just by knowing their views on books,” said club member Sarah Bacon, about why she joined the club. “You get to see who they are more.”
The book chosen for the first book of the year, “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, has resulted not just in discussion, but action by the group.
The book intertwines fiction and nonfiction, with the two stories of a boy and a girl living in Sudan and dealing with the lack of clean, accessible water which creates daily hardship and causes disease.
“I kind of wanted to go with something that would really expose them to the outside world and really make them think about things they don’t always think about in a way they can understand,” said Tongue River Branch Librarian Anna Veinbergs, who along with TRHS Librarian Brenda Nixon, co-sponsors the club and helps select the books. “Some other folks had read the book and it really touched them.”
As the group progressed through the book and began talking about its impact on them, the idea for a community service project began to take shape. They decided they would like to raise money to help support a clean water project in Sudan.
“We brought it up in one of the book club meetings,” said Veinbergs. “‘What if we do a fundraiser and raise some money?’ And I think the school counselor suggested we go to the local Rotary Club and see if they would match what we raised. This idea just really excited the kids and they seemed really enthused about it.”
To raise money, the group of six students, Bailey Forsness, Samuel Martin, Sarah Bacon, Elana Ostler, Brook Butler, Maysa Hagel and English teacher Patrick O’Harra, offered to clean the school gymnasium after each January basketball game. The group made $200 from their efforts and then gave a presentation on their project to the Dayton-Ranchester Rotary Club. The club offered to match the students’ money. In addition, club member Warren Mischke took on the role of locating a suitable organization to work with.
“He really went to bat for the club and got excited about finding a project that was in South Sudan for us,” said Veinbergs. “It was all about partnership with this project and that was just extraordinary. I am so excited about how this went so far, without expecting it to.”
“We got a project right in the area where the book took place in South Sudan,” continued Brenda Nixon. “They are drilling bore holes for wells and the gentleman that is head of it, Walter Hughes, just received an award in D.C. for this water project through Rotary International. They drill these bore holes and all the labor pretty much is from the villages. They crush the gravel by hand and the trenches are dug by hand. Once they get these water wells dug, villages and communities start to get buildings, schools, stores, clinics and hospitals. So these water sites are really important for this area.”
Turning their book club discussions into a community service project that will help people halfway around the world was inspiring for the young club members. ”
“For me, just the fact knowing I helped somebody in another country that didn’t have clean water,” said Samuel Martin, about how the book and the project have impacted him.
“Over there they have to walk for miles for a drink of water and we can just walk to the sink,” said Maysa Hagel.
The assembly on Tuesday will feature presentations by Mischke and Nixon, as well as Rotarian Pete Hager, who spent time as an engineer in Sudan in the 1980s, who will discuss his experiences.
“I hope we inspire other groups to do something like this,” said Bailey Forsness. “It doesn’t have to be this exact project, but just going out in the community and getting involved and helping others.”
“You are never too young to start!” added Elana Ostler.