'One-gallon challenge' teaches NJ students about global water plight

Dozens of students at Soehl Middle School in Linden, New Jersey, aren't just slinging around their backpacks on Thursday. They're also carrying an entire gallon of water from class to class as part of a special lesson to encourage student activism.

"It was really hard to carry around all day for almost seven hours," sixth-grader Matthew Vasquez said. "So it was pretty challenging."

Social studies teacher Michael D'Amato came up with the One Gallon Challenge after showing his sixth- and eighth-graders a documentary about the global water crisis and its impact on women. 

"I figured, instead of waiting until March, maybe if we did a little something right now to kind of spark interest—when the students start carrying the water bottles right now," D'Amato said. "Their friends start saying, 'Oh what's that for?' It starts to grow, it starts to grow."

According to water.org, women around the world spend a collective 200 million hours trying to collect clean water for themselves and


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their families.

The crisis hits close to home for sixth-grader Emmily Damaris Tigre Villa, whose mother, Gloria, sacrificed her education to provide for her own family.

"My mom, she used to carry, as well as my past generations of aunts, and so did my grandmother," Emmily said.

The One Gallon Challenge is only a small fraction compared to the amount of water that people in developing countries are used to carrying around every single day, often filling up 5-gallon jugs with up to 40 pounds of water.

At the end of the challenge, D'Amato asked his students to brainstorm a couple of ways that they can help make a small difference, even from thousands of miles away.

"There is no clean water, and obviously clean water is one thing that is really important, not just for survival, but for hygiene and all that stuff," sixth-grader Gabrielle Tyler said.

D'Amato hopes the activity will give his students an opportunity to reflect and spark an even bigger conversation during Women's History Month and International Women's Day in March.