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Water that the girls treated! Look at how clear it is!
pouring water
Girls Inc. campers used aeration, coagulation, sedimentation, and filtration to treat the wastewater.

I’ve been called out for doing something wrong many times before, but none of those times have lingered on my mind longer than the one I experienced this past week.

The DukeEngage week at Eureka! went really well. My lesson plan was about water scarcity and the water treatment process. We talked about the different types of water scarcity, the water conditions in different parts of the world, the effects of dirty water, water treatment technologies, and how having clean water empowers women, among other topics. The girls were extremely curious in each class and had a lot of questions, sometimes leading me to talk about how we’re drinking dinosaur pee (all the freshwater on earth is the same freshwater we’ve always had because of the hydrologic cycle) and how astronauts treat their urine with reverse osmosis to obtain fresh water (I realize now that we talked a lot about urine).

The activities that I had planned for the lesson included an interactive roleplay game where the girls would “travel around the world” to different places with differing water conditions. At each station, there was a different challenge to complete in order to fill up their Needs (small cups representing agriculture, industry, and human needs) with water.

At the Water Abundant station, girls had a full pitcher of clean water right in front of them and they could use it freely to fill their Needs. At the Physical Scarcity station, there wasn’t enough water to fill up all Needs so the girls had to pick and choose which Needs they wanted to prioritize. At the Economic Scarcity station, the girls would have to carry a heavy backpack and their Need cup to the other side of the room to get their cup filled with dirty water, then walk all the way back with everything. At the Lack of Efficient Technology station, girls had to answer three riddles in order to fill up one Need.

Yes, this activity used a lot of water, which is ironic because we were stressing the importance of water conservation throughout the lesson. While I was writing the lesson plan, I imagined that we’d reuse the water for each lesson, but that didn’t end up happening. It was just because of convenience. It was more convenient for me to carry 4 empty water pitchers back to storage after each lesson than it was to make several trips back and forth. I guess in my mind I imagined that teaching this lesson was so important that it overshadowed wasting a couple pitchers of water.

One day after the lesson, after I poured out water from the lesson on nearby grass and flower bushes, I walked out to the lunch area to interact with girls as I usually did. I was conversing with two girls from my class that day when one of them asked what I was doing earlier. She saw me pouring out the water. The two girls expressed their confusion and frustration with what I did after I had taught them a three hour lesson on water scarcity, and suggested that I reuse the water for future lessons.

I felt, quite frankly, dumb. These girls were completely right. So much water gets wasted every day because of convenience. Then energy and money has to be spent treating that water again. I know a lot about water scarcity and I had a great time teaching about it. But if I didn’t even change my own water usage habits, was I really doing all that I could to solve and spread awareness about the water scarcity crisis? I thanked the girls for expressing their concerns and promised that I would reuse the water for future lessons.

The girls at Eureka! are so smart. I’m so glad that those girls called me out. It means that they got something from my lesson. It means that they have the capacity to educate the people around them. It means that they can, and will change the current climate change scenario to ensure that clean water, as a human right, is available to everyone.

In my lessons, we talked so much about climate change, the water scarcity crisis, health and sanitation issues, etc. that our world is experiencing. I presented the girls with problem after problem after problem. No clear cut solutions. But after interacting with these girls, hearing them come up with their own solutions, calling me out for wasting water, I am so, so hopeful.