Upton Middle School student continues fight against water scarcity

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – Most children Leah Terry’s age expect to relax during their summer vacation.

But at 13, Terry has already done more than most her age.

Come July 10, the Upton Middle School eighth grader plans on taking a week-long trip to Zambia, Africa, after raising $5,000 to build a water filtration system.

The charitable project began in fourth grade at E.P. Clarke Elementary School, when her class read “A Long Walk to Water,” which depicted the struggle of an African village digging a well.

“Some villagers walk miles for hours a day just to get clean water, which is a basic thing for us,” said the St. Joseph resident. “To think about changing that was inspiring. I really don’t know what to expect. I’m just excited to see everything.”

Terry is coordinating her effort with The Water Project, which provides water and sanitation solutions to communities around the globe.

In her fundraising efforts, Terry had collected about 150 works of art that were sold as part of a project called “Art for Africa.” With that she, along with friends and members of the community, sold art to go toward her overall goal of $5,000.

With the combination of “Art for Africa” and a grant she received from Disney, Terry was already halfway to her goal by summer’s end. Terry was notified last weekend that she was chosen as a local winner of the Kohl’s Care Scholarship for her charitable efforts.

Upton Middle School Principal Chad Mandarino said the scholarship put them over the top for the money they needed.

“She’s a great girl, straight-A student, very involved in the choir and our musicals,” he said. “I don’t know where she finds enough hours in the day.”

To Mandarino, Terry has shown the fortitude and the “go-at-it type attitude,” based on how long she has kept at it – which included fundraising for nearly a year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in our area,” he said. “This is something beyond my wildest dreams for someone this age.”

A family affair

Terry’s father, Jeff, is also proud of her.

“She’s always been a real inquisitive kid,” he said. “She has done a lot of research on water scarcity. I was certainly impressed.”

In a way, Terry takes after her father.

Jeff does a lot of international development and has traveled to Africa, Asia and India, supporting clean water, better nutrition and projects that fight malaria and other diseases.

The plan will be to spend the week visiting a number of different communities in Zambia to see her hard work pay off. While there, Jeff said the two will have an opportunity to see other organizations at work – ones that have made great strides in improving water in Africa.

While the hard part is over, prepping for the trip has proven to be eventful.

“It’s a little hectic right now, but it’s been interesting,” Jeff said. “She’s never been outside of the country before. I think she’s more nervous about the flight then going there and seeing the work.”

With two summers under her belt in trying to combat water scarcity, Terry’s plans for her next summer are undecided.

“I haven’t thought that far ahead, but I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just thankful for the community’s help in raising the money.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 13, 2015)


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