by Elizabeth Bachmann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — In 2014, a science project sparked the compassion of a 10-year-old girl from Colorado. So, she set out on a walk that would change the lives of an entire town of people in Kenya.
From that auspicious day in 2014 to the present, Jennifer Stuckenschneider, partnering with Unbound, raised over $16,000 to build pumps and sanitary outhouses and latrines in Kenya, Honduras, India and Uganda.
Jennifer was in the midst of a Catholic school science project studying microorganisms through a microscope, when the thought popped into her head. She wondered about her Unbound pen pal, Rose, who lived in Kenya. She knew Rose had to walk a long way from her home to collect water for her whole family.
Jennifer wondered if Rose’s water was clean, or contaminated with the microorganisms that she was seeing through her microscope.
Once her imagination was ignited, Jennifer couldn’t stop thinking about Rose and her water. She wondered how it would feel to carry water long distances.
So, she tried it out. Filling up an empty milk carton, Jennifer began toting it around town with her, provoking all sorts of questions and the itching curiosity of her fellow 10-year-olds. They absolutely had to try it too.
In that moment, Walking for Water was born. Four hundred people attended that first walk in September of 2014, and Jennifer raised enough money to install a pump for Rose and her family.
“I thank Jennifer for bringing us water so that I save on time after school. I do my washing and I have enough time for my studies,” Rose said. “I would also request her to visit us, for me to see her.”
Rose, now 12, is studying to be a surgeon one day.
But Jennifer discovered in her continued correspondence with Rose, that the Walk for Water didn’t help just her pen pal.
Rose’s mother, Rebecca Kagendi, said that other people from their village who were not able to walk 5 km to the nearest well also used Rose’s water.
“They wrote this one letter when they talked about how it helped the people in the community as well,” Jennifer told Catholic News Service, “and I wanted to help more people.”
Then, Jennifer’s philanthropic endeavors began on a large scale. Now 16, Jennifer partners with Unbound and raised $3,200 to build 32 water tanks in Honduras.
The next year she raised $5,000, which Unbound used to build latrines in Kampala, Uganda, and last year she continued to raise funds and put three wells and a fan in a school in India.
Most of the money comes from donations and T-shirt and water bottle sales, which Jennifer, a budding artist, designs herself. Jennifer still holds a Walk for Water every September at Colorado Mesa University to raise awareness for the cause. Mesa Catholic campus ministry helps sponsor the event.
Founded by lay Catholics, Unbound is based in Kansas City, Kansas, and serves the world’s poor through a sponsorship program.
Jennifer’s mother, Tricia Stuckenschneider, mentioned that organizing the walk and merchandise sales every year has become daunting for Jennifer, who devotes her whole summer to the process. But, fueled by that first ignition of her curiosity and compassion, Jennifer won’t give up.
“‘You’ve got to walk if people still don’t have water,'” Stuckenschneider recalled her daughter saying. “That’s Jennifer, to try and help people.”