March 28, 2011
Ashley Martins, Samantha Sech and Maria Andrade, students at Cardinal Leger School, role play a day in the life of an Indian working girl.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Ashley Martins, Samantha Sech and Maria Andrade, students at Cardinal Leger School, role play a day in the life of an Indian working girl.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — Catholic students from throughout Edmonton have stood up for the poor of the developing world.

Some 350 students from at least six Catholic high schools literally stood up for hours in the gym of Austin O’Brien High School March 15 to show their solidarity with those struggling with lack of clean drinking water, malaria and leprosy. And while they stood, they heard speakers and saw movies focusing on these issues.

They ate an ethnic lunch typical of India, with rice, vegetables and pita bread. Performing was the Christian band From Love to Forfeit. A number of charities, including Development and Peace, set up booths to offer information.

This was the third annual Stand Up For day, a fundraiser where students raise money to help combat disease and provide clean water for the poor. Last year they raised $8,000; this year’s goal was $10,000.

Participants give their money to the cause of their choice based primarily on the presentations they heard. Some split their donations among the three causes so that each would get some funding.

Carla Cuglietta, chaplain at Austin O’Brien and a member of the charity Canadian Water Works Foundation, told students that in India a child dies every nine seconds from drinking dirty water.

Poor families don’t have sanitation so fecal matter sips into the water and contaminates it, she said. “If dirty water is the only water you have, you will drink it.”

Guest speaker Bhuvinder Gill, a Canadian-Indian who travels to southern India yearly to help the poor, said 128 million of her compatriots don’t have access to clean water and 839 million don’t have sanitation. “They wake up every morning without knowing where they are going to go to the bathroom.”

Those who want clean water have to walk long distances to get it, said Cuglietta, who asked all the females in the gym to raise their hands.

“All of you would not be in school (if you lived in India) because your job would be to collect clean water,” she said. “Girls your age have to walk three kilometres to get clean water. It’s the reality of India and other parts of the world.”

For a few years, Cuglietta and the Canadian Water Works Foundation have been supplying poor families in India with an effective water filtration system known as the Biosand water filter.

Invented in Calgary, the filter gets rid of more than 90 per cent of bacteria and fecal coliforms and 100 per cent of parasites, protozoa and worms. Each filter costs about $35, which includes production, transportation and installation. The maintenance cost of the filters are minimal and they can last for 25 years.

A VILLAGE CHANGES

Students that participated in last year’s Stand Up For day donated enough money to buy 188 filters. “The whole village changes when they have access to clean water,” Cuglietta said.

Malaria is a disease caused by mosquito bites and tiny parasites that get into the bloodstream. Each year, there are more than 225 million cases of malaria, killing around 781,000 people. It is estimated that 90 per cent of malaria cases can be avoided with insecticide-treated mosquito nets that cost about $7 each.

Kasia Konowalec, an Austin O’Brien student and member of the planning committee of this year’s Stand Up For, said in addition to raising awareness of the issues facing people in the Third World, the Stand Up For activity helps students realize they can make a difference in the world.

Konowalec raised $70 among friends and family, which she was planning to put toward a water filter, a couple of malaria nets and the battle against leprosy, a curable disease.

GETTING EDUCATED

Phillip Havin, a 14-year-old from Cardinal Leger School, came to the rally to get educated “about current affairs in India” and other parts of the world.

“I’m amazed at how many people don’t have access to clean water — something we take totally for granted,” Havin said. “My money will most likely go toward water filters.”

Caitlyn Bilyk of Austin O’Brien colleted $100, which she said would go towards mosquito nets and water filters. “We have a responsibility to make the world a better place.”