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Press Release: february 14, 2008

7th Graders from Maryland Travel to a School in Ohio to Talk About Bringing Water to Africa

CHEVY CHASE, MD and HUNTSBURG, OH (February 14, 2008) – Five Maryland 7th graders from the Oneness-Family School in Chevy Chase, Maryland will travel to the Hershey Montessori School in Huntsburg, Ohio to tell students there about how they can help some of the world’s most vulnerable children currently dying of thirst in a drought-ridden region of West Africa.

They will describe a large rural area in Niger where children have to walk as much as 35 miles in a day to bring back a small amount of water for their families and animals. Since November, 2006 students from  Oneness-Family School have been raising awareness about the severe water problems in this region by speaking first at a teacher’s conference in Florida and then at Montessori schools in Maryland. This is the first time they will travel out of their state to another school to talk about this travesty.

The students first learned about the desperate plight of these people from Ariane Kirtley, a former Fulbright Scholar who studied public health in Niger and spent a large portion of her childhood growing up there.  In 2006, Kirtley started a well-building program called Amman Imman, or “water is life,” to help these families who suffer from water shortages in the country’s desert – or what is called the Azawak Valley.

Describing the area, Kirtley recounts that it lacks the elements of basic development. For instance, there are no roads or trails leading to or from the Azawak. Few schools exist in the area. The closest health center is a two-day trip by donkey. And half of children born there die before they turn five; one quarter die from dehydration alone. Kirtley classifies the Azawak as the most marginalized region in a country the United Nations ranks as the least developed in the world. Unlike throughout the rest of Niger, there are no humanitarian agencies working in this area, She hopes that Amman Imman will act as an impetus to change all of this.

The student’s trip all the way to Ohio is a testimony to the urgent need for change in this region, as well as to the worldwide movement of Montessori schools, which have banded together since November, 2006 to help spur regional development. Thus far, 45 schools have held events and conferences to help raise money and awareness for the project. The schools communicate through a blog, where their humanitarian ventures, on the part of the people of the Azawak, are catalogued.  

Debbie Kahn, Associate Director of the Oneness-Family School, and the author of the blog will accompany the students on their trip to Ohio, along with their teacher, Amy Jessup.  “By speaking to their peers, students are the leaders in a grassroots initiative on behalf of the people of the Azawak who desperately need help. They are changing people’s lives,” says Kahn.

With the help of students’ fundraising efforts, Amman Imman successfully erected its first borehole well last summer.  The well is meant to ease the suffering of some of the 500,000 people who have no water for nine months out of the year, due to a lengthening drought. During the three months that they do have water, Kirtley describes their water as being brackish, brown and thick with mud, dirtied by the people and animals which bathe in the ponds.

The 7th graders from Oneness feel that their efforts are making a difference.  “If we tell the Ohio students about the Azawak and how they can help Amman Imman, then they will pass it on. It will keep going like a cycle and a bunch of people will start to help,” says Dylan Clearfield, age 12.  Sophie Marney-Dejanikus, also age 12, added, “The more people we get involved, the faster we can get water to them.”

The student presentation will take place on Friday, February 15 at 9:30 a.m. for middle school students at Hershey’s Huntsburg campus and at 1 pm for elementary-aged children at the Concord campus.

Program Amman Imman is a Washington, D.C.-based program, working in partnership with the American non-profit The Friendship Caravan, For more information, visit:  To read about student efforts to help, visit:

Amman Imman is a Washington, D.C.-based program, working in partnership with the American non-profit The Friendship Caravan.  For more information, visit:


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