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Water security for our students and schools in Mexico and beyond

Sebastian Reyes is nine years old. He is in the third grade. He wants to be a doctor. But between now and then, he is leading the way in bringing a rainwater harvesting system to his school, Escuela Doctor Epiphanio Jimenez Avila in Xochimilco, Mexico. The school serves 949 students.

“We need to really take [water systems] seriously,” Sebastian says. “And we need to help the planet and the contamination that’s going on because plants and animals on our planet are dying and it’s all going away.” 

He explains, “What we are doing with the system here, we are capturing the rain, filtering it, and using it, and that way we don’t have to use the [water trucks]. They are really expensive, and it’s just too much for us. We are doing this for the country.”

He notes over and over again with pride and some amazement that “not even a hair” can get through the filter.

Sebastian Reyes

Sebastian’s school is one of 24 Escuelas de Lluvia or Schools of Rain. These schools are an initiative of Isla Urbana, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary and works towards water sustainability in Mexico through rainwater harvesting. Sol Garcia, the foundation coordinator, says these students didn’t have access to a constant source of clean water. Via International and Go Global NC partnered with Isla Urbana to bring the system — which costs about 150,000 pesos or about $8,000 — to Sebastian’s school.

Sebastian with ANA Paula Mejorada, the coordinator of the Schools of Rain. She says, “Every time I leave a school, I am filled with hope.”

The school was celebrating the installation of the system on the day we visited. The principal said, “The children need to understand this issue and develop a consciousness around sustainability. It is important that our children are raised with this culture of taking care of water.”

The group at the Escuela de LLuvia.

“Water is a world issue.”

Sebastian’s mom, Leidy Laura Vera, attended the school when she was a student, and she remembers when classes would be cancelled because there was no water. A letter Sebastian wrote led to the school being designated a School of Rain, and his mom continues to lead parents in maintaining the system and sustaining the initiative.

Elisa Sabatini, the president of Via International, says, “The genius behind these systems are the young Mexican engineers who designed them.”

Collaboration is also important. Students, teachers, and parents work together to collectively become the “guardians of the water.”

It requires consciousness about sustainability. It requires leadership. It requires concern for future generations. 

Delfin Montañana, the director of environmental education for Isla Urbana, notes how quickly communities can move from water abundance to scarcity. He led our teachers through an exercise to show them how initiatives are designed to reach the potential of the community.

Delfin Montañana, the director of environmental education for Isla Urbana.

He asked our teachers to imagine a symbol that represents “for what purpose you are doing what you are doing.”

Our teachers then paired up to talk about the relationships between their symbols. The pairs then doubled up to lift up and share general relationships among the group. The groups then paired up to identify one shared word or concept. Our core concepts?

Unity. Interdependence. Connection. Growth. Impact.

Throughout the day, our teachers used EdNC’s tool called Consensus to submit their own statements about water and determine shared beliefs. Here is what we found:

  • Water is a fundamental need to thrive and grow, which is an expectation for all and therefore should be a priority of our governments – 100% agree (24 responses)
  • Every human has a right to water and sanitation — 98% agree (45 responses)
  • Access to clean water is a stepping-stone to development — 97% agree (35 responses)
  • Contaminated water and a lack of basic sanitation are undermining efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries — 95% agree (35 responses)

Ashley Melendrez is a family and consumer sciences educator in her eighth year teaching culinary nutrition at Midway High School (MHS), part of “an extremely rural farming community” located in Spivey’s Corner. She writes:

“My heart is so incredibly full! Words can not describe the joy. Today is truly a day I will cherish always and the absolute highlight of my professional career. There is a water crisis in Mexico (and much of the world). Many individuals go without water for weeks at a time. When they do have access to water it has to be transported by water trucks, which is expensive. It is also dangerous for the drivers … the trucks get highjacked for WATER. Something we take for granted every day; others are praying for it, begging for it, literally hiking for it, and even stealing it.”

This is why this initiative is life changing, she says.

“Open your arms to the rain,” Montañana concluded, noting that these water systems are doing more than addressing a public policy problem. They are changing our ways of being in relationship with one another and our world.

Our thanks to the students, the teachers, the parents, and the principal of Escuela Doctor Epiphanio Jimenez Avila for the biggest, warmest welcome you can imagine.

About Go Global NC

Go Global NC, part of the University of North Carolina System since 1979, designs and manages programs that build the capacity of policy leaders, educators, students, and business and community leaders to enable North Carolina to succeed in a global economy and increasingly interdependent world. 

Go Global NC’s Global Teachers Professional Development Program, founded in 1991, provides professional development to K-12 teachers from across North Carolina through an in-depth learning experience about the history, culture, and environment of other countries.

About Via International

Via International is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with 40 years of experience engaging people to participate in community development initiatives. Their focus is to improve quality of life by providing educational and transformational experiences to connect people to community development work through voluntourism and civic engagement. Via International is Go Global NC’s trusted partner on this program helping to provide unique local access.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.