Panther power will build a Kenyan tower

POULSBO — “There are many animals in our country, like monkeys, lions, zebras, and others,” writes Ilngarooj Primary School 15-year-old John Reteti. “... How is America? Kenya is a nice country. I would like to get a friend in your country.”

The words of Reteti, a member of the Maasai Tribe, were sent recently to students at Poulsbo Junior High School. His letter, along with many others from the same tribe, have started a pen pal relationship that spans halfway around the world.

But the tribe faces a very serious problem. It is a similar plight that much of the rest of the African continent — poor water quality. The result of which is wide-spread illnesses and disease, and even death.

“They’ve written to us saying that they have to dig holes in the ground (to get water) and it’s really dirty,” said PJH student Stephanie Camp.

But Camp and others have rallied to try and help clean up the water for the tribe. And they’ve come up with just the solution.

“The water’s dirty,” said PJH student Mark Magures, “And they need a big well so they can use it.”

The Poulsbo Junior High School water tower project, born out of the school’s February Black History Month celebration, aims to raise $2,100 in order to build a holding tank that can keep large quantities of clean water. It would help eradicate one of the many epidemics that still plague the African tribe.

The students have viewed a film that shows daily life with the Maasai. Houses are very small and their occupants often sleep on the floor, they said. The tribe, like the entire Kenyan nation is predominately poor and rural — 75 percent of the entire labor force is in the farming industry.

The project started when the principal of Ilngarooj Primary School came to Kitsap County for a visit a year ago. He gave pen pal letters to PJH Principal Tony Bainbridge, who in turn assigned the school’s administrative intern Carol Cleveland to the task of keeping correspondence between the African and Poulsbo students.

“My dream has always been to go to Africa,” said Cleveland, who jumped at the opportunity to serve as a liaison between the students. “Just once.”

The students have begun to sympathize with the tribe’s plight through the letters.

“It makes us sad that they have to go through that,” Camp said of the water epidemic. “I just can’t stand the fact of it. It’s pretty much heartbreaking.”

But it also represents a unique lesson in altruism. The students said that despite knowing that many of the students will never see the water tower once it is completed, they’ll still know they’ve made a difference.

“It makes us feel good, that we know we’re helping others,” said PJH student James Riley.

The students have received some help from the PJH faculty, namely the efforts of teacher Helene Hatch.

Hatch is donating a large portion of her hair to “Locks of Love.” But for the water tower project students are selling raffle tickets. The winner will be the person to cut Hatch’s lengthy locks.

The students are selling a number of different items and have thus far raised about $600, a good start, but still have a ways to go.

“I just hope we can get enough money for them,” Riley said.

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