Everyone wins at the 15th Annual Global Water Challenge

Early on a Saturday morning, the Middle School at Colorado Academy is buzzing with students and parents, eagerly anticipating the 15th Annual Global Water Challenge. In one classroom, Counterman Team South Sudan is putting the final touches on their presentation addressing that country’s water problems.

“A brighter future for South Sudan!” they announce, in unison, at the opening to their skit. They go on to talk about cattle washed away in floods, a grandmother who had died of cholera, the shortage and high cost of food, the length of time water should be boiled to make it safe, and the demands that finding water imposes on children, interfering with their hopes for education.

The group had invented a system of decontamination for water that would be funded by an American nonprofit, but would be based in villages, with one family teaching another the method. It was too difficult, they said, for external groups to solve this problem in South Sudan because of tribal conflict.

“What did you know about South Sudan when you started this project?” asked one judge. “Nothing!” the team answered in unison.

“Did you ever get up in the morning and not have drinking water?” asked another judge.

“No, but you have to think about that possibility in order to do this project,” answered a member of the South Sudan team. And that is the point of Global Water Challenge—students putting themselves in the shoes of someone in a country they may never have heard of to tackle a problem which they may never have considered in their lives.

The teams

For the 2019 Global Water Challenge, Middle School science teachers Sue Counterman and Erin Galvin created small Sixth Grade teams representing countries from around the world: Uganda, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Yemen, Tanzania, Djibouti, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Malawi, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Kenya, Ethiopia. This was more than a geography lesson. Team members focused on the challenges their country faces to obtain clean water. Each team also invented a creative solution to ensure that the people in the country can access, treat, and distribute clean, sustainable water.

The Global Water Challenge was originally developed by Blair Gifford, PhD, Professor of Global Health Management at CU Anschutz. The challenge is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

The judges

The Global Water Challenge presentations are judged by a variety of experts and persons with experience with the Challenge. Some judges, including a civil engineer, came from the Aurora Fitzsimmons Rotary Club, which works on water projects around the world. Some of the judges return out of loyalty and love for the project, including Gabby Morley.

Morley, who participated in Global Water Challenge 13 years ago and is now a student in nursing, came back “to see what it’s like on the judging side.”

“I really like the environment at CA,” she added. “Much of what I learned here I have carried through my life. CA gives you a good education, but you also learn how to be a good person.”

A competition where everyone wins

The competition among the many groups in Global Water Challenge was fierce, and the creative solutions to provide clean water were impressive. Team Burkina Faso said they started with the idea of drones moving water, and quickly abandoned that as impractical, so they invented a “water wagon” which could not only move water, but could sterilize it in transit. They punctuated their presentation with a song, composed by Jaxon Richardson and sung spiritedly by Keegan Manzo.

“Why does life have to be like this, dirty water that makes me sick,” Keegan sang. “Clean water, oh, I wish I could just throw a fit. Someday I will have enough water to stay in my home for one whole day.”

Ranking first among the competing teams was Galvin Team Bangladesh, including William Arney, Alex Bank, Khloe Brown, Kate Freeman, Jacob Miller, and Rosie Risch. A donation in their name was made to Water is Life Kenya to purchase a 250-gallon water tank. Also honored were these teams:

  • Counterman Team South Sudan: Sloan Greenawalt, Mara Harris, Noah Jimenez, Estevan Loya, Philip Foreman
  • Galvin Team Cambodia: Luke Allison, Molly Hills, Piper Morris, Luis Rodriguez, Gideon Silverman-Joseph
  • Counterman Team Yemen: Layne Ballenger, Rex Burstein, Harper Ezrine, Claire Prior, Benny Vath
  • Counterman Team Tanzania: Mila Brockman, Grace Carson, Andrew Esposito, Oliver Neely, Willa Wang
  • Galvin Team Guatemala: Jack Braun, Fletcher Emerson, Macey McKean, Laura Noyes, Elliott Rydberg

But it’s easy to argue that everyone who participated in and attended this event were winners, coming away with new understanding of world-wide water issues. Throughout the morning, students echoed the words that Hannah Smith told the judges: “Now I wake up every day feeling lucky to have what I have.”