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Blog Action Day: Water

October 14, 2010

When we’re up to our neck in paperwork, discipline matters, developing a new curriculum, and trying to have a life, it’s all too easy to forget one of the main reasons teachers teach. The pupils. Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s theme is Water, so, I wanted to share something that happened in my school just recently and which helped remind me of what a difference a chance remark and some determined pupils can make to the lives of people we will never know.

LIFESAVER bottle 07 Michael Pritchard’s TED talk about the Lifesaver bottle he has developed has haunted me (The demo starts at about 3m30s… and watch out for the dead rat dropping into the tank… but I recommend you watch the whole recording!). Whenever I hear talk about how many thousands of prototypes James Dyson went through, I think instead of Pritchard trying to develop something that would actually be worthwhile. Whenever I hear people talking about how awful their lives are because they can’t afford the latest iPod/iPad/iGimmick, I think of how many lives could be saved by spending a fraction of the iCost. Whenever I want to inspire pupils, I show them Pritchard’s TED talk, and ask them what they could do to help others.

This all came to fruition a couple of weeks ago. I had been listening to the BBC news and was disgusted that they had dropped mentions of the Pakistan flooding because they were too busy talking about the England vs Pakistan Cricket Tests. I was discussing this with some of the Senior pupils who use my room at lunchtime, and, during the conversation, made mention of the lifesaver bottle. They asked for more information, so I showed them a bit of the TED talk… specifically, the demonstration at 3m30s. Here it is for you to watch. I’ll wait. It’s worth it.

What I didn’t know was that the pupils I was speaking to were actually trying to find a cause for the school to support. The next day, Rosie Swift, one of the pupils, came back to me for more information. I had pointed them at Michael Pritchard’s blog from his recent visit to Pakistan to deliver 500 Lifesaver Jerrycans.

The pupils wanted to get involved. They saw the Lifesaver as a truly lifesaving product that did one thing exceptionally well: it provided safe, sterile drinking water to those who needed it, and just as importantly, it did so without any political or religious strings or conditions. In short, it is about the most unpartisan help you can give… perfect for a school.

jerrycan-aid-version Rosie had been on the Lifesaver website and had found the price for a jerrycan: £135. This pays for a Lifesaver Jerrycan, which will then be shipped to Pakistan free of charge and distributed where it can do most good.

Next, the idea had to be sold to the school because this was an idea that would have to be voted for by the pupils.

I wasn’t able to see the presentations the pupils did, but I knew that the Lifesaver idea was up against some really tough competition with ‘Help for Heroes’ being the one I thought would get the popular vote. I had underestimated how driven the pupils were, and how powerful Michael Pritchard’s demonstration is. I had thought our pupils would favour a local charity. I thought I knew. I was wrong.

Our pupils voted to collect money to buy Lifesaver Jerrycans to be sent to Pakistan to make a difference. They saw beyond local issues and needs to a situation that will require help and support for years to come. They saw beyond, and for that I will always be profoundly moved and proud of them.

When the job is getting me down, I need to remind myself that the reason I teach is not because of my love of literature or even my desire to help pupils achieve the best they can academically. The reason I teach is because sometimes I get to make a difference. Sometimes I am privileged enough to be allowed to point young people in the right direction, and then I get to stand back and watch them flourish. The pupils in my school have voted to make a difference. They have decided amongst themselves that water, the most basic of all our needs, is something they can share.

This is Blog Action Day. The key word is ACTION. The pupils at my school know what they are doing, but what are you going to do to make a difference?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

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