The Power of Passion in the Classroom

August 17, 2017

Posted by Amanda, Development Director

Karman Vanderstel is a 3rd grade teacher at Georgetown Elementary School in Hudsonville, Michigan. Her school days are filled with lessons about math, spelling, geography…and water.

Last year, a good friend of Karman’s convinced her to organize a school fundraiser for one of her favorite organizations: 20 Liters. At first Karman was hesitant; the end of the school year is busy enough for a teacher, and the last thing she wanted to do was add one more big project to her hectic schedule.

The ultimate motivation for Karman to say ‘yes’ came from an unlikely source: her friend’s adopted son, Abraham. Abraham and his sister had been adopted into this Michigan family from Africa, after the loss of their parents at a very young age.

Abraham’s adopted family grew to learn a great deal about the daily struggles of life in Africa; chief amongst those is the constant search for clean water. Abraham’s story was featured in a 20 Liters video, chronicling his early life in Liberia, and the fact that safe, clean drinking water was often an elusive thing [you can watch Abraham’s story here].

Once Karman learned more about Abraham’s story, and his mother’s own fundraising work with 20 Liters, the decision to organize a school fundraiser became simple. She decided to start small, involving her own classroom and several other classes in her wing of the school.

Her plan started as a simple fundraiser: ask the students to bring in money to donate to 20 Liters. But Karman wanted to form a deeper connection between the money raised and the 20 Liters water filtration systems that that money would support. In our busy lives, it would be too easy for kids to simply ask their parents for a little bit of money, she thought, and think no more of it.

Karman invited Abraham to the school to meet the students and share his story; his 20 Liters video and his infectious charm captivated the kids as his story sank in, that clean water isn’t so easily available elsewhere in the world as it is here in the developed Western world. Once the students were engaged, Karman decided to fully involve the kids in the fundraising process. They couldn’t just ask for money; they had to somehow work for it. Karman left it up to the students’ imaginations; she challenged them to do SOMETHING to raise their money. The kids enthusiastically took up the task, and did a number of things to raise their money. Some went door to door to share 20 Liters’ message; others held can drives; some put on bake sales.

Karman had the students bring the money they raised into their classrooms where it was collected in one of 20 Liters’ iconic yellow water jugs. As each student dropped their donations into the jug, Karman had them explain to the other students how they raised their money.

Once a week (the fundraiser ran for two weeks) the students would take the 20 Liters jug into the hallway and sort and count the money, giving them even further involvement in the project (and maybe even getting some math and counting lessons along the way.)

Karman spent quite a bit of time rolling coins at home, and when she ran out of coin sleeves, made a stop at Macatawa Bank for more. The teller, inquiring what all the money was for, informed Karman that the bank, which normally charges for rolling coins, would be willing to offer their services for free as part of their community involvement and outreach program.

Abraham’s compelling story and Karman’s passion and enthusiasm for the 20 Liters fundraiser created a fundraising experience for the students that they will carry with them for life, along with the life lessons about the larger world around them. They learned about the plight of millions around the world who struggle for access to the most basic of life’s necessities. They learned valuable lessons about how we take for granted things that for most of the world are luxuries. They learned about how, with a little effort on their parts, they can do a great deal to help others in need.

Karman’s first-year efforts definitely paid off. The six classrooms that participated in the 20 Liters fundraiser raised a grand total of $850, which will allow 20 Liters to provide clean water to over 40 people for at least a decade.

The success of her first drive has motivated Karman to do it again in 2018, only bigger and better. She plans to include the entire school in the effort, and recruit Macatawa Bank in the coin-rolling operation.

For other teachers interested in organizing student fundraisers for 20 Liters, Karman has some advice: Keep it simple and show your passion. If students see the passion for the cause in their teachers, they will be more than motivated to take the wheel of the fundraiser and hit the ground running.

20 Liters thanks Karman Vanderstel and the students at Georgetown Elementary School for their efforts in making the world a better place! If you’re an educator interested in organizing a similar 20 Liters fundraising event in your school, please contact us for more information!

Profile written by Bob Andrews

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