Teach Climate

January 10, 2019
By: Betsy Wilkening, COP26 Delegate

A Journey of Discovery

As part of Climate Generation’s #TeachClimate Network, we read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Betsy Wilkening, Tucson Water Education Coordinator in Arizona, reviewed the book and how educators can use it in their classrooms, tying it to current events. Important to note is the interdisciplinary nature of this book. It could be used in an ELA, science, or social studies class. The TeachClimate Network is supported by Avangrid Foundation in partnership with Avangrid Renewables.

A book takes you on a journey into the world of the storyteller, but a really good book is one that compels you to continue that journey beyond the printed pages.

A Long Walk to Water book coverA Long Walk To Water has taken me on a journey beyond the Southern Sudan stories of our narrators: Salva in 1985, and Nya in 2008. Many of our students would look at the dates of these stories and consider them ancient history. However, I challenge students after reading this book to journey further into the stories of Sudan, Southern Sudan, the United States-Mexico border and beyond. The journey I took beyond this book is one of social justice.

Since the stories in this book occurred, Southern Sudan gained independence in 2011 from Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1989. Our #TeachClimate book club discussed this book on December 18, 2018, as new violence was breaking out in Sudan with calls to oust al-Bashir. The Washington Post provided a nice summary of Sudan’s history under al-Bashir’s rule to provide context to the recent strife. This is a story that is unfolding before our eyes and a way to engage students in current events.

Meanwhile, Southern Sudan is not all peaceful. As we enter into 2019, CNN provided images of 7-year-old Southern Sudanese children who were born the year South Sudan received their independence. They share their dreams for their country. All of them speak of a desire for peace. This map can help your students understand the geography of the country while highlighting all the roads where armed guards are required for safety.

This unrest and violence led me to the story of what is occurring now with refugees and immigration in the United States.

I live 70 miles from the Mexican border at the Nogales port of entry. Our community embraces our Mexican culture, and groups such as No More Deaths work to provide humanitarian aid to those in need. Our federal government is currently shutdown as politicians argue about building a wall at the border to prevent people from coming to our country. Meanwhile, our border has become a place of sorrow, as children were separated from parents this past year, and recently as a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in two separate instances while in custody.

The United States has been hostile to refugees since 2016. The government is removing refugees who are legally in the country by changing the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of people from many nations including Sudan. This American Life tells this story in their podcast #656, Let Me Count the Ways. One of the scariest parts of this story is the extra story that is included at the 58th minute in the downloaded podcast. Zoe Chace interviews U.S. citizens that don’t believe that refugees exist. They choose not to understand the situations that cause people to become refugees, and by ignoring the whole story it is easier to make choices that only affect yourself.

It is from this point that my journey travels into more hopeful territory. There are many people who choose to take the path of understanding. Through their actions, they are helping those in need. Salva created the Water for South Sudan organization to bring wells into communities and improve the education and health for people in his homeland. Their organization provides opportunities for others to help, with an emphasis on teachers and their students through the Iron Giraffe Challenge. Additionally, the World’s Largest Lesson resources are provided to engage students across the globe in learning and performing actions to help the world meet the UN’s 17 Goals towards a better world by 2030. These resources and organizations provide hope towards a better future. Salva didn’t let adversity end his journey towards a better future, and A Long Walk to Water can lead others into a journey of learning and action to help others.

When teaching with A Long Walk to Water, you can take your students on many different journeys beyond the book.

We visited the theme of climate refugees in The End We Start From, and A Long Walk to Water book can delve into the same theme. Clean available water and sanitation is the 6th UN Goal. This is not only an issue for people in underdeveloped countries, but also affects people in our country. Students can learn about work being done with The Navajo Water Project, and can move on a path to helping others such as these University of Arizona engineering students.

Lastly, check out Climate Generation’s Humanities Curriculum to get more ideas.