Last week saw the tenth annual Wandelen voor Water (Walking for Water) campaign set a new fundraising record in the Netherlands. We are very proud to announce that this year Euro 1,294,488 was raised by Dutch school children taking part – the largest sum raised during the campaign’s ten year history. As in previous years, Aqua for AllSimaviZOAAMREF and Akvo worked together with Rotary Clubs and several other organisations to make the campaign a great success.

Walking for Water is a fundraising and awareness-raising concept where school children aged 10-13 walk 6 km (the average distance that many people in developing countries have to walk each day to collect water), carrying six litres of water in a backpack. Funds are raised by the kids themselves, mainly as donations from friends and family.

The money is used to finance water projects in developing countries, which the children can then follow through their schoolwork. As a preparation for the walk, teachers and guest lecturers educate the children about the importance of clean water and adequate sanitation in developing countries.

Photo above: Walking for Water in The Hague, by Lissy van Noort. 21 March 2012.

Wandelen voor Water began in the Netherlands ten years ago and has been growing year on year. 2012 is the second year running that children from other countries have also got involved. Internationally, more than 26,000 school children from around 500 primary schools participated this year. While most of the participants were based in the Netherlands, around 800 children from nine other countries took part. Together they walked more than 150,000 km to collect money for water and sanitation projects in developing countries.

During the week of World Water Day on the 22 March, children all over The Netherlands walked for water. A guest lecture taught children about water issues in different contexts; both in The Netherlands and developing countries. On 21 March, I joined the walk in Bergschenhoek and my colleague Lissy took part in the event in The Hague. Spring had finally arrived so it couldn’t get any better.

Walking for Water in Bergschenhoek was organised by Rotary Club de Rottemeren. 500 children from several primary schools participated. Early in the morning the children and their supervisors gathered at the start. The mayor gave a welcome speech and encouraged the children to do their best. A group of musicians from Senegal played drums and guitar during the warm-up. Children were singing and dancing and after the kick-off they started walking full of energy through the beautiful forest.

Band of Omar Ka from Senegal gave the children in Bergschenhoek a high-energy warm-up

Under a clear blue sky, 900 children from schools in and near The Hague started their walk from the Museon through the dunes to Scheveningen. After the warm-up the children were ready to go. Lissy saw children carrying their backpacks on their belly as they found it easier. “But the children in Kenya have to carry their jerrycans on top of their head,” they observed.

In Bergschenhoek, first aid experts advised children to empty two bottles of water, because it would be too heavy to carry. However, most children did not give up and carried six litres of water all the way to the finish. Many remarked, “I don’t want to empty my bottles, because I only need to do this once, and many children have to do this every day.”

Both of us were surprised by how much the children knew about their peers in Malawi and Kenya and about water and sanitation issues, how much money you need to build a pump and how much water we waste in The Netherlands every day.

Thanks to the help of many volunteers, first aiders, teachers and supervisors who walked with the children, the walks were a tremendous success. The children who started in The Hague finished at the water tower in Scheveningen. At the finish, they emptied their bottles into big bathtubs where the water was collected and could be returned to nature afterwards. In Bergschenhoek the children emptied their bottles in a gutter to drain off the water into a stream.

At the finishes, all the children gathered again to rest a little and enjoy the sun. By asking family and friends to sponsor them, the children in Bergschenhoek collected € 15,167.92, which was doubled by Aqua for All  to € 30,335.84. The money will benefit a project in Malawi to build rope pumps in villages where water is scarce. The pumps will enable people to drink clean water and children to attend school, since they won’t have to walk big distances to get water anymore. The children in The Hague walked to support a project in Kenya that aims to build toilets and watertanks in schools for clean drinking water.

Here’s a Dutch language video of highlights of the Walking for Water event in Bergschenhoek.

You can view Lissy’s nice short video of the Hague event here.

We are in the process of collating this year’s videos from different Walking for Water events around the Netherlands and other countries and will post them on www.wandelenvoorwater.nl and www.walkingforwater.eu as we get them.

Over the past ten years over 100,000 children have walked a total of 650,000 km to raise money for water and sanitation projects. To date, the campaign has raised over €5m for water and sanitation projects. We hope even more children from all around the world will particpate in the coming ten years to support development projects.

Laura Roverts is a project officer at Akvo