Water for South Sudan is pleased to highlight Michelle Hammond, the students and staff of Stephen Decatur Middle School, and their community for their outstanding support. Since 2017, they have raised over $33,000, enabling us to drill two new wells and deeply impacting lives in South Sudan.
We sat down with Michelle Hammond, a 7th grade teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Maryland, to learn more about how she and her students have been inspired to support Water for South Sudan.
WFSS: How did you first get involved with WFSS?
MH: About three years ago we started implementing the state standards to bring more non-fiction into the curriculum. I connected with our social studies teacher and selected A Long Walk to Water to read with my class. The social studies teacher helps students to understand the geography of Africa while I focus on South Sudan. In science, the students learn about natural water filtration and why the aquifer is safer than ground water, as a great way to connect to the book.
I will never forget that first year reading the book. One of my students stood up and said, “We have to do something to help these people.” We found the WFSS website and set a goal to raise $2,000 at our first Water Walk. We had 350 kids participate the first year and I was blown away by how much money the kids were bringing in—they shared their ice cream money, birthday checks, and change—helping to raise over $8,800.
WFSS: What has surprised you most about WFSS over the years?
MH: I could not believe WFSS only had four full-time and one part-time staff members in the U.S. to help manage everything. They make it so easy to support this cause.
WFSS: What do you wish other people knew about WFSS?
MH: I wish they knew how far the money goes. A donation of $15,000 will save hundreds of people from illness and help to provide schools and jobs.
WFSS: When talking to your friends and family about WFSS, what do you say?
MH: I spread the word by talking about the need for clean water and sharing the book. My niece is in college and must do a service project so I gave her the book. She now plans to host her own fundraiser this year.
I also believe that no matter your trade or job, you can help. My 28-year-old son is a mechanic and he made a well for the school kids out of old tires. Kids throw their change in the tire after lunch as an easy way to fundraise.
WFSS: What might someone be surprised to know about you?
MH: I’m an introvert and read books to recharge after school. I collect chickens on the side of the road and raise them with a good life.
In 2007, I was named Maryland Teacher of the Year. This is an in-depth process and you must be nominated at the school, district, and state level to win. I also submitted a portfolio about my teaching philosophy—both conventionally and unconventionally. I was given the option to take a year off of school to travel and give speeches, speak to state legislatures, and attend conventions for professional development. I met President Bush and won a car (Pontiac G6)—the first new car we ever owned. I traveled with other teachers and even attended space camp. Many teachers who win end up leaving for a higher-level position but I didn’t want to leave the classroom and my students.
WFSS: How would someone describe you?
MH: Quirky, driven, and always with my nose in a book.
We are so incredibly thankful to work with Michelle and be supported by the students and staff of Stephen Decatur Middle School, and supporters from their community. You are watering the seeds of change in South Sudan!