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Monroe student Wahl aims to be changemaker
Monroe sixth-grader James Wahl is organizing a fundraiser for people in Cape Town, South Africa, who are experiencing a water crisis due to drought. The fundraiser will take place March 19 through March 23 and will allow students to pay $1 per day to use their tech, including phones and tablets, during recess and lunch. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Sixth-grader James Wahl watched an assigned video about the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, and immediately knew he wanted to help.

"I learned a lot about the crisis but also how we should preserve water and how much we take for granted," said Wahl, a Monroe Middle School student.

He soon emailed his social studies teacher, Claire Tibodeau, to brainstorm ways he could make a difference for those in need. Together, with some help from English teacher Marlea Johnson, Wahl and Tibodeau created a fundraiser for the water crisis where students will pay either $1 a day or $5 for the week to be able to use their technology, such as phones or tablets, during lunch and recess. The fundraiser starts today and lasts through Friday.

People living in Cape Town are restricted to 50 liters of water per day, which is about 61/2 gallons. City officials have warned it will need to shut off the water supply to residential taps and businesses by 2019, on what's referred to as "Day Zero," due to dangerously low dam levels, according to the city's website. Day Zero was previously projected for this summer but was pushed back after efforts to decrease water usage.

All of the money from the fundraiser will be donated to Water 4 Cape Town, a nonprofit that provides support for citizens and businesses on conserving water, according to its website.

"I've heard students say, 'Save your allowance. Bring in your allowance,'" Johnson said. "We'll be happy with whatever we're able to collect and to make people aware of the problem and how to become a changemaker."

Tibodeau came up with the idea for students to use their technology to raise money after the middle school did something similar with a different initiative last year. Johnson said they wanted to get started right away because they knew the week before spring break would be perfect to keep students engaged.

Wahl said he has been having fun helping organize the fundraiser, and a lot of his friends have been getting involved as well. Tibodeau's homeroom class spent a couple days making posters in preparation for today.

Tibodeau said she plans to have the students re-watch the CNN episode about the water crisis so they can absorb the importance of the fundraiser. There's also a trove of pictures on CNN's website that Tibodeau said she uses so students can actually see the effects of the drought in Cape Town.

"They can kind of get the concept of not having enough water," Tibodeau said. "But then I point out, 'No, you have to walk carrying those 61/2 gallons per person now back home. That takes a lot of strength and time.' It's hard to get across to them because it's culturally very different from how we live and it blows their minds a little bit."

Wahl's initiative and desire to help with the water crisis impressed Tibodeau, who was overjoyed when she received his email.

"I was like 'Ah! Stop everything!'" Tibodeau said. "This is the best teacher moment. You hope you have these moments as a teacher and (in) year two, I've already got one."