Austin High School Students Gain Deeper Understanding of Water Scarcity and Global Engagement with Annual Walk For The Water

In 2017, Daniel McCutcheon a student in the Academy of Global Studies (AGS) at Austin High School and Devon Steiner, biology teacher had an idea and a vision to help bring clean water to people in Burundi, Africa. Fast forward three years, Walk For The Water has achieved remarkable tangible results and continues to gain momentum. Around 600 freshmen have participated and raised a combined total of nearly $30,000 to help build clean water systems in Burundi, one of the world's poorest countries. In Burundi the number one cause of death is water-borne illnesses such as typhoid, hepatitis A, or schistosomiasis. 

The funds raised by AGS students equate to about 980 people in Burundi getting daily access to as much clean water as they need. The program also allows AGS participants to gain a deeper understanding of water scarcity, consumption, and their role and ability to be engaged, global citizens.

The Walk For The Water is a 5k walk designed specifically for Academy for Austin High School's Global Students. Before the walk simulation students study water issues and fundraise on behalf of the Gazelle Foundation, a local non-profit organization that builds clean water projects in Burundi, Africa. All money raised will provide Burundians access to clean drinking water. To date the Foundation has built 49 water systems, that give nearly 100,000 people access to clean water, thanks in part to people like the AGS students and their supporters.

Since its inception, the AGS Walk For The Water program has been shepherded by Devon Steiner, freshman biology teacher, who has been to Africa and knows first-hand the challenges of water scarcity. She also knows the power the simulation has on her students in Austin who struggle carrying the jugs the three-mile distance on the crushed granite mostly-flat path. The lessons empower the students to become socially responsible global citizens.

Not only is the Gazelle Foundation helping families and people in Burundi gain access to clean water, but they are instilling the importance of volunteering and helping others.
— Katherine Ownby, AHS Class of 2020

The school's location in the heart of the City and its proximity to the banks of Lady Bird Lake lend itself to the simulation. And the AGS students are uniquely experienced participants, having spent several days of their fall semester at Global Village with Heifer International. Where wealth is unequally distributed, creating an environment where challenges and conflicts may arise and sheds light on real situations happening within our world today. With a keen awareness, the AGS students begin their simulation Walk for The Water.

On Friday morning, March 8th, 2019, Gilbert Tuhabonye, who was born in Burundi and is now an Austin resident, philanthropist, running coach and genocide survivor met with 250 students to prepare them for the Walk experience. He thanks them for participating and reminds them of the November 2018 city-wide water boil notice, and the February 2019 zebra mussels infestation of Austin's raw water systems. Tuhabonye also speaks about the students’ good fortune, and their capacity to help others, as well as his motivation for giving back to Burundi. He then leads the students in singing, and they head off in teams of six or seven carrying empty 5-gallon water jugs from their campus toward the trail at Lady Bird Lake. At the lake students struggle to keep feet and clothes dry as they crouch on the muddy bank and fill their jugs. Some move toward deeper water so their jugs fill more quickly, others comment on how muddy the water is at the bank.

With full jugs they head to walk the three-mile route to simulate the average distance that people in developing countries walk to get water. The students traded-off carrying duties, some use stick to help support the jugs, others foist the jug onto their heads, they all struggle with the large awkward buckets that are dripping wet and weigh 40 pounds.

Academy of Global Studies at Austin High School helps raise funds for water systems in Burundi. A collection chamber like the one pictured here is crucial to water systems, it filters water that flows to tap stations throughout villages. And clean water transforms futures for people in need.

Academy of Global Studies at Austin High School helps raise funds for water systems in Burundi. A collection chamber like the one pictured here is crucial to water systems, it filters water that flows to tap stations throughout villages. And clean water transforms futures for people in need.

The Gazelle Foundation has completed 49 water systems to date. People using water system are immediately healthier, because sanitation and hygiene are boosted, and risk of water-borne infectious diseases are reduced. Rather than spending hours collecting water, kids get more time to attend school. And people can work and earn money.

The combination of health, income and education begin to reverse a cycle of poverty. Access to clean water creates new opportunities and changes the trajectory of every person in the community. That’s what the Gazelle Foundation means when when they say, clean water transforms lives.

The Gazelle Foundation is thankful to Academy of Global Studies at Austin High School and its supporters. They we helping transform futures for people in Burundi.

$300.00 The gift of clean water for two families. For Life.

$500.00 The gift of clean water for one classroom at a local school.

$100.00 The gift of a salary for one local worker building the water project.

To contribute to the AGS campaign click here. To become a monthly donor or to make a one-time donation directly to the Gazelle Foundation click here. To learn more about our work click here.