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Girl raises money for clean water in South Sudan
Liana Daniels looks towards her mother inside her living room while talking about her efforts to raise money to help provide clean water and education to the Tuffi people of South Sudan, Tuesday, March 4. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
JUDA - Liana Daniels will turn 9 years old this April, but she doesn't have any presents picked out. All she can talk about is raising money to provide clean water and education to the impoverished Tuffi people in South Sudan. That, and how she wants to help the homeless after she raises enough money for the Clean Water Project. She talks about her sisters, her daddy - and actually, "Lia" talks quite a lot.

"In first grade I thought about it, and then I told my parents, and then we had a bake sale at Christmas," she said. "Then after they get clean water I'll help the homeless."

She bounces and sprints from couch to window sill, couch to floor, kitchen to floor. She has stringy brown hair and she's a wiry little girl with a voice that gets your attention. Corrine Daniels, her mother, tries to interject but is soon silenced by Liana's ideas about donations.

"We could get ice cream and drive around Juda - and Savanna (Liana's sister) could go to the grocery store, because we would run out of ice cream," she said. "Sorry, I didn't really have recess."

She has raised nearly $3,000 and intends to meet her $7,000 goal after April 12, when they will host a 5K Fun Run at Juda Zion United Methodist Church. Her mother guesses they could make it to $7,000 in a couple of years. The money will help to provide a new well and sanitation station and education for the locals on hygiene and maintaining the well.

"At first I thought it was this cute little idea, then it was like, holy cow, she could actually do this," Corrine said.

Liana said she came up with the idea in the second grade in Sunday school.

"One Sunday we were at church, like always, and my Sunday school teacher, umm, what was her name?" Liana said.

"Trish," Corrine said.

"Yeah, Trish - she told us to write something we should pray for, and I thought Africa, water, so I wrote it down in our little circles. Wait, I think we still have them," Liana said before she ran off into the kitchen to come back with handcrafted wooden totems. She said her grandpa and dad made them when they were kids. They look like church steeples with hollowed out middles. She said her dad used to sell them for charity.

"Honey, I think we are getting a little off topic," Corrine said.

The money will be donated to the United Methodist Committee, a nonprofit organization that forwards 100 percent of donations to its causes.

Denise Honeycutt, who works for UMCOR in New York, confirmed that all the proceeds go directly to the cause.

"People can feel like, "How do I know my money goes there?'" Honeycutt said. "(But) because she has designated where she wants the money to go, all of that money will go to that project."

UMCOR gets its support for administrative costs from volunteers and the United Methodist Church. The organization typically helps in disaster relief like the recent earthquake in the Philippines, but Honeycutt said water is a keen focus of the group.

"People in Africa could drink the water, and they die from their water," Liana said. She said some of her classmates know she is doing this and have asked her why she feels so strongly about it.

"Like, I just thought about it," she said. "I kind of knew people in Africa don't have water, and then they could die, and it's just wrong."

Vicki Brantmeyer, a pastor at Juda Zion United Methodist Church, said this is exactly what her church teaches, and she felt they should donate to the cause. Brantmeyer turned to Liana and said, "I originally thought we were helping you, but now I think you're the one helping us."