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GRO. Plants 6th Well in Malawi, Africa

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Boma School in Malawi, Africa has been selected as the recipient of two borehole wells thanks to generous donations raised by GRO. (Girls Reaching Out) and an anonymous donor who followed their updates on Facebook.

Malawi contact Patrick Tembwe took friends of GRO. (Deb Wente and Steve Hamer) to Boma in mid-April to see the dire need for clean water at the site. Based on the forms sent for the GRO. girls to consider, it was hard to believe that a school of over 5,000 learners surrounded by high population villages did not have access to clean water. When he toured the school, Steve Hamer called home at 4:00 a.m. to say, “the need here is unbelievable and we think that the school needs more than one well. When the wells dried up here, the government did nothing to replace them.  The parents and teachers can’t feed the students their porridge lunch because water is required to be mixed with the cornmeal. I fear that if you only build one well, it will be used by the villagers and the students won’t get a turn at the well.” GRO. posted the Boma update on Facebook and multiple donors reached out within minutes. One anonymous donor, in particular, is willing to match funds up to $3,500 for anyone who wishes to make donations between now and the end of June.

Girls Reaching Out was established by a small group of sixth graders who wanted to help girls their age halfway around the world spend their time learning in the classroom instead of collecting water in the countryside. After learning that much of the water collected was also unsanitary, Bridget Bullard, Asha Edgerle, Mary Madigan, Jordyn Schipper and Marcella Senti officially started their own not-for-profit in eighth grade and named it GRO. (Girls Reaching Out).

To date, these juniors in high school have raised almost $60,000. The fourth well was just completed at Kaziwa Primary School in the district of Ntchisi. It supports 523 learners and 150 families in surrounding villages.  “When we saw photographs of the girls climbing over rocks to get to the river water, we knew this site needed to be considered,” said Bridget Bullard. To get from the school to the site was a 20-minute walk in one direction. The submitted application required by GRO said, “The teachers requested that learners bring water in pails from their homes for mopping classrooms, drinking and other purposes. Absenteeism is high as some learners fell carrying water to school, and is like punishment.”

Prior wells include Kamwala II Primary School (January 2017) just outside of the capital city of Lilongwe, Kapija School (January 2018) roughly four hours north in Mzimba district and Kapoka Full Primary School (April 2019).

“We have a very special relationship with Lakeland University,” explained Mary Madigan. Lakeland University students from Malawi who were receiving their Masters In Education took the time to meet with the girls and teach them about the water issues affecting their country. At first, the girls raised awareness and money by Christmas caroling door to door. When the girls decided to make formal presentations and ask to meet with Sheboygan County businesses, Lakeland supported GRO. by holding their funds in a bank account and sharing their 501c3 status. Eventually, Lakeland teacher Nancy Buhr and her group traveling to Malawi had the honor of attending a ceremony in person and meeting the children whose lives are changed directly because of the borehole well. “We are so thankful,” said Asha Edgerle.

100% of the donations go directly to the borehole wells which provide sustainable, sanitary water for the schools. A friend of Lakeland University and a resident of Lilongwe, Patrick Tembwe, physically visits the prospective sites, hires the contractors and supervises the installation of the well and the surrounding walls that keep animals out. He shares pictures before, during and after the construction. On one of his site visits to Kapoka, he shared, “When rains come, they bring along all the dirt into the wells. Sometimes, especially people around the school, dig smaller wells, wait for the water to settle before drawing for home use to avoid drinking the dirt. Teachers are lucky because when rains come, they capture water from the roofs of their houses and use for three or four days (depending on water containers one has). The situation is bad. It is ten minutes approximately walking from the school to the well. On the way back, I met the two girls going to draw the same water that I saw.”

This April, three of the past wells were visited in person by Deb Wente representing The Sheboygan Rotary and Steve Hamer representing Lakeland University and GRO. Although the GRO. girls would love the see the wells themselves in person, Marcella Senti said, “It’s very expensive to travel to Malawi so we’d rather put the money toward more wells.” If donors wish to track the Malawi trip, they are welcome to visit the GRO. website or look up Girls Reaching Out on Facebook.

GRO. has worked tirelessly to raise money to continue building wells in Malawi through fundraisers, partnerships and corporate calling. Thanks to the amazing work of Malawi liaison Patrick Tembwe, and Joshua Kutney and Jeff Elzinga at Lakeland University, GRO. looks forward to building two more wells before the end of 2019.

Gro would like to graciously thank the incredibly generous donations of the Catherine S. Stayer Foundation, the Grover Family Foundation, the Sheboygan Rotary Club, Lakeside Bottling Company, Johnsonville, St. John’s Evangelical Church of Kohler, Blessed Trinity of Sheboygan Falls, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church of Sheboygan, Salon 511, Bullard Children’s Dentistry, Shining Lotus and many families of Sheboygan County.

When asked about the future of GRO., fellow team member Jordyn Schipper added, “Next year, we will be seniors and we plan to pass our program onto the next generation.” A new group of sixth graders will begin in September. In fact, they hope to enhance their website to teach anyone who is interested in how to start their own GRO. group. Right now, the girls are reviewing proposals for next two selected sites.

“When the girls said they wanted to raise money to build a well in Africa, I actually tried to talk them out of it,” said co-
leader Shannon Bullard. “Everybody says they want to ‘build a well in Africa’ but nobody knows what the money actually goes to. I thought that a smaller, local project would be more reasonable. Co-leader Susan Senti and I taught them how to contact businesses, make presentations and write thank you notes. In return, they taught us that everything is possible and kids can change the world.”

On April 10, United Way of Sheboygan County selected GRO. as the 2019 Group Volunteers of the Year.  It was humbling to be nominated with amazing finalists Great Marriages Mentor Couples, Sharon S. Richardson Volunteers and Sheboygan Service Club.

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