6.4-mile trek simulates trips many throughout the world make daily

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Water sloshed from the 5-gallon bucket that Alyssa Betz had carried for three miles.

"My arms feel like Jell-O," said Ms. Betz, a freshman at Duquesne University from Bethel Park.

She was one of 300 students to participate in Saturday's Water Walk for awareness of global water issues. The hike from Duquesne University to the South Side to gather water was intended to simulate the treks that women and children in the global South take several times each day to bring back water to their families.

The Water Walk was co-sponsored by the Spiritan Campus Ministry at Duquesne and Amizade, a Pittsburgh-based global service learning organization. This was the fourth year for the Water Walk, but its first at Duquesne. The walk was nearly tripled to 3.2 miles each way to make it a more realistic simulation.

"The average woman in our partner [communities] walks three hours a day to gather water. When they are doing that they are unable to be in school, to earn money through work or to teach their children," said Brandon Blache-Cohen, executive director of Amizade.

Amizade is building rainwater gathering systems in homes to eliminate those walks. Saturday's Water Walk was expected to raise at least $2,000 for that effort through registration fees, raffles and donations.

As they set off, they picked up the orange Home Depot buckets, which lined a university walkway. They walked down the bluff, turned left on Forbes Avenue, then rounded Ross Street to Second Avenue. They passed the jail, crossed the 10th Street Bridge to the South Side, turning right on Bingham Street. They cut down Ninth Street to access the riverside bike trail, on which they doubled back much of the distance they had come. Finally they reached a set of narrow stairs to the river. An Amizade worker dipped their buckets into the green water for the long walk back.

Duquesne junior Emily Cowan went to Tanzania with Amizade last summer, helping to plant a sustainable tree farm, teaching English to children and interviewing local women about their culture. One day after she finished teaching she opened a bottle of water.

Her students, who had been calm and focused, went wild.

"They ran toward me screaming and arguing and started fighting over it," she said.

Shaken, she gave the water to the children. The next day she brought enough water bottles for all of her students. But even though she would have allowed them to drink in class, the bottles sat on their desks untouched.

"I realized that they were saving the water for their families," she said. "They were only 11 and 12 years old, but they knew how great the need was at home."

Although women and children in Africa would carry the 5-gallon jugs full, balanced on their heads, the students carried only about a gallon in each bucket.

"I can only imagine, if this was all the way filled, how bad it would be. It makes you realize how good we have it," said D'Nara Cush, a freshman from Westchester, N.Y.

The students attracted attention as they paraded through the streets with the orange buckets. She believed that did some good.

"I think it brought some attention to this issue. And I hope this walk gets bigger and bigger each year," she said.

Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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