ISAAC students try walking in a water-fetcher's shoes

New London — Seventh-graders, learning how difficult it is to access water in some parts of the world, heard from a local immigrant and got a small taste of “fetching water” themselves Wednesday.

After they heard from Fiyin Lamidi, a native of Nigeria who has been here for four years, the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication students grabbed a gallon jug of water in each hand and paraded around the city — past St. James Episcopal Church and the Regional Multicultural Magnet School, by Williams Park, beyond both courthouses.

While some students toughed it out, others tired halfway through the mile-long jaunt, setting their jugs down or handing them off to someone else near the intersection of Bristol and Williams streets.

“This is torture,” one student lamented minutes before another asked, “What do they call those things? That’s right, a hernia. I’m gonna get a hernia.”

Little did the students know they would have to go out twice more — once before lunch and again afterward.

Mike Kuczenski, a social studies teacher who took part in the project, said students in past years went around the block once instead of walking close to three miles.

The goal was to make the task challenging while understanding it couldn’t be an exact replica — many people walk up to 13 miles per trip carrying 70 pounds of water. The students, by comparison, carried about 16 pounds.

“It’s one thing to learn about something in a book,” Kuczenski said. “It’s another thing to literally walk a mile in someone’s shoes and carry the water. To get that connection ... brings their understanding and learning to a new level.”

Kuczenski said the students have been reading “A Long Walk to Water,” a novel by Linda Sue Park that highlights a Sudanese girl's experiences, similar to those Lamidi had in Nigeria.

After only the first walk, many students seemed shocked Lamidi began walking for water about age 6 and did so at least once daily.

“You did this every day?” one student asked as the group made its way down Broad Street. “I feel sorry for you.”

Lamidi laughed as he answered students’ questions with candor.

“It’s not comparable because there’s not the pressure,” Lamidi said later. “When you have the pressure coming from your family (to get the water), it’s not fun. But at least now they kind of understand what it was like.”

Earlier in the day, he presented to the whole group, speaking about how many Nigerians reserve water in large tanks for when the electricity goes out, yet still make daily treks to “fetch” water for themselves.

He said most people either carry pails at their sides or wrap a towel or cloth around their heads and balance a larger pail on top.

Lamidi demonstrated the latter with a student volunteer, bringing cheers from some of her peers.

In cases of drought, he told the students, people sometimes walk all that way only to wait an hour or more in line to fill their buckets.

Lamidi said the trips taught him the value of hard work and how to conserve water, but that didn’t make him like them.

“Every time you have to do it, it’s the worst nightmare,” he said. “No child likes it, but you just have to do it. ‘If you want to eat, you have to fetch water’ — that’s what my mom would tell me.”

Lamidi said those who couldn’t afford steel pails sometimes had to heat up strips of plastic to repair holes in their plastic ones. He also poked fun at the lack of flavor in chicken here and called the school “like a resort center” compared to the schools in his hometown, both times eliciting laughter.

Afterward, the students were asked to reflect on Lamidi’s talk, their experience walking and their own water use. 

The presentation was Lamidi’s first to a group of students but not his first time working with the students at ISAAC. He is one of 16 immigrants featured last year in a student-produced traveling exhibit and book project called “Community Faces,” which has garnered state and national recognition.

Kuczenski, who spearheaded that project, said he’s glad the school continues to partner with local residents.

“Fiyin is a great example of a community member who immigrated here who is willing to help our future,” he said. “He’s willing to take the time out, and we’re so appreciative of that.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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