Archive | Special Reports

Atascocita to Africa: Changing lives one by one

By Jordan Anholt, Kelli Hinojosa and Alex Rynearson/J-Line Writers ~

Water. H2O. Agua. No matter what people call it, nobody can live with dirty water. But many people in South Africa have to.

In poor parts of South Africa, people don’t have access to clean water and have to drink contaminated water from canals, wells in the ground, or from the rivers. The diseases in the water often lead to sickness or death.

In December, the H2JoJo project, which was started by Atascocita High School teacher Tara Bain, went to Africa with the hope of helping South Africans without access to clean water.

The H2JoJo team raised money from schools and the community in the Humble ISD to purchase five massive water containers — one 10,000-liter container and four 1,250-gallon cans – for schools in South Africa.

 “We live in a world of luxury. We think we need things, but it’s really just a want,” said Bain. “If we wake up and it’s cold outside and we don’t have the warmest jacket, it’s not the end of the world. But when the kids in Africa wake up and don’t have water, they think it’s normal.”

Bain wanted to teach people to realize that they often don’t understand how much others are suffering in South Africa due to filthy water.

When Bain went to Africa, she was accompanied by seven students, including her two children Stone and Scarlett; and four teachers from the Humble school district. The students from Atascocita High School were Paola Beltran, Nick Brooks, and Anthony Lewis.

Although the team’s primary goal was to provide clean water to five schools, they also distributed food, toys, and some clothes. They gave gifts to orphans, and uniforms and shoes to 15 students.

They also met one 11-year-old child who could not walk after being stricken with polio. The girl’s grandmother, who she called “Gogo,” carried her until she grew too heavy. From the age of 3, the girl had been stuck in the house.

For Christmas, the H2JoJo team gave the young girl a wheelchair, allowing her to finally leave the house.

Another highlight of the trip was seeing three of the five JoJo cans put to use. Often, the entire community came out to watch, with children pressing their ears against the containers to hear the “whoosh” of the water pouring through the faucets.

“The kids are very happy, really smart,” said Shannon O’Brien, one of the teachers who journeyed to South Africa. “It makes you cry because you realize how important this is to them.”

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“It’s not the end of the world”

Nelspruit, South Africa, a city of 3.5 million people, is in the Mpumalanga Province in the southern part of the country. It is 9,000 miles from Houston. Map by Jzaan Hammack & Jack Lee

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~                                  

One ocean and 9,000 miles away lies a land utterly different from anything most Americans have seen before.

Nelspruit, South Africa.

Its official name is Mbombela. The city in the province of Mpumalanga was renamed in October 2009 to bring back the original heritage of the country.

About a month ago, a group of students and teachers from Humble ISD traveled to Nelspruit to help provide clean water to five different schools.

They called their mission the H2JoJo Project

While they were there, the group noticed a significant difference between South Africa and the Atascocita area.   

Here in Atascocita, there is often a common misinterpretation of the people in South Africa and the lives they live. Some people see TV commercials depicting starving children with gloomy looks on their faces and think this is all South Africa is.

It is not true.

“They all seemed really happy,” said Shannon O’Brien, one of the teachers who went to South Africa.

Most of the children in South Africa do not feel as if they are as poverty-stricken. The life they live is all they know and many children are not really sure what a life with luxuries, such as TVs and computers, is actually like, said the H2JoJo group. 

“I wanted to be able to get a chance to take students over there and teachers over there, so they could know that everything is not like it is here in America,” said Tara Bain, leader of the H2JoJo project.

When the H2JoJo group was in South Africa, they toured one of ten stadiums created for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The stadium, located in Nelspruit, was actually built on land that used to belong to a white farmer, said Bain.

Many blacks lived and worked on this farm. When the farm was sold, all the people who were living on the farm were left without jobs and homes and became “displaced,” said Bain.

Apartheid ended almost 20 years ago, but traces of segregation can still be found all over the city — from the upscale neighborhoods to the townships located on the city boundaries.

“It looked like pre civil rights,” said O’Brien.

Blacks in South Africa were forced to live in townships, or homelands, during the apartheid era to confine all the colored people into one area outside of the city. Even after apartheid ceased, most families stayed in the townships instead of moving into the city.

Most South Africans living in the townships are without basic needs such as clean water and adequate housing. The lack of these basic needs can lead to deadly diseases such as malaria, cholera, and other diseases, according to thirdworldtraveler.com

Even though they struggle to get necessities everyday, homeland residents find pleasure in their daily lives. On the other hand, some people in the Atascocita community might get upset when the smallest things don’t go their way, said Bain.

“If we have a bad day, or if we get our cell phone taken away, we think it’s the end of the world,” said Bain, “But if they don’t have water at the end of the day … it’s not the end of the world for them.”

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Moved by a mission

By Austin Davidson and Edgar Galvan/J-Line Writers ~

In South Africa, a country where 7,500 schools lack access to a safe water supply, it’s not uncommon for students to go all day without water to drink, restrooms to use, or food other than bread to eat.

But at five schools in the Nelspruit region, clean water will now be readily available – thanks to the H2JoJo Project, which provided containers with the capacity for a month’s worth of clean water at each location.

For the twelve Humble ISD students and teachers who participated in the project, the experience was unforgettable and emotional.

“Everybody broke down at a different time.” said Shannon O’Brien, an AHS teacher who was part of the H2JoJo team.

 Many of the students and teachers who went on the South Africa trip had private moments of tears and sorrow. One particularly moving moment came when the South African children started to sing and dance beautifully, said O’Brien.

 The trip was especially emotional for Nick Brooks, an African-American student from AHS. He was approached by many of  villagers who talked to him in their language. After Brooks told them that he was an American, they were shocked because they did not know that the United States was not an all-white country.

Although the South African people have almost nothing in their lives, their hearts are filled with joy and happiness, said Tara Bain, the AHS teacher who founded H2JoJo.

“What they want is clean water,” said Bain. “What they want is a roof over their heads and tennis shoes to wear. What they want is an education.”

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Charmed by the children

By Ariel Reyna/J-Line Writer ~

Many Americans don’t expect children living below the poverty level to be all smiles and always happy. Especially if those children live in rural South Africa, where clean water is scarce and food is meager.

But they are. At least, that is what Atascocita High School teachers, Tara Bain and Shannon O’Brien found when they went to South Africa over the winter break as part of the H2JoJo Project.

Before O’Brien went to South Africa, she felt that the trip was about the Humble ISD volunteers going to help the people of that country. But once O’Brien got there, she realized it had nothing to do with her or the other volunteers, that the real story is about the kids who have to find a way to survive every day.

They were “really bright kids,” said O’Brien, explaining how the South African children would have conversations about America, and wanted to learn more.

When the students and teachers from America arrived to South Africa, most of the children looked at them with skepticism, but they started to warm up after the Humble ISD students started to play with bouncy balls, according to O’Brien.

After the H2JoJo team installed the water containers at each school, the children would repay them in the only way they could: in dance and song, O’Brien said.

“The kids sang the most beautiful songs,” said O’Brien, who often cried when the children sang and danced.

Many children there have polio or other muscular disorders that don’t allow them to move. On Christmas day, some of those children were given wheelchairs so they were able to move around and play, according to Bain.

After the filters and JoJo cans were installed, the children would put their ears up to the cans to hear the water that was filling it up. Some of them were already drinking the water, by putting their head under the faucet and letting it run in their mouth.

“I wanted to get a chance to get students over there and teachers over there, to know that not everything is not like how it is in America,” Bain said, explaining what inspired her to bring others to South Africa. “I wanted students and teachers to know that we live in a world of luxury… and for [the South African children], they are as happy as can be.”

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Commentary: Hand in hand, making a better world

By Kaley Consford/J-Line Writer ~               

A dry, hot, and deprived land. That is what the volunteers for H2JoJo first saw when arriving in Nelspruit, South Africa. Seeing this, the students and teachers from Humble ISD knew more than ever that they had never suffered the way these people have, that now was the time to realize nothing is ever as awful as it seems, and that all one person can do is try to make a difference.

Seven students and five teachers spent time and money planning their mission to South Africa. Their main goal: bring clean water. However, just by going on this trip, they are inspiring others to help make the world a better place.  

The water in South Africa is “not accessible,” said teacher-volunteer Shannon O’Brien. The H2Jojo group bought a total of five jugs — one 10,000- liter can and four 1,250-gallon containers — each to be filled with clean filtered water for township schools where children have nothing but deadly contaminated water.

 According to the Ghana News Agency, mortality resulting from the consumption of contaminated food and water in South Africa is around 700,000 annually.

By going on this trip, the H2Jojo group not only gave clean water, but also completed a promise to fill underprivileged children’s’ lives with hope and health and a future.

This trip also changed the lives of the Humble ISD students. It showed them what life is truly about by revealing that our own selfishness should be replaced with the desire to make a difference for someone else.

 “You realize it has nothing to do with you, because these children live like this every day,” said O’Brien. “When we’re gone, that water will still be there, and that’s the story, being able to know you’re increasing the chances of a child having a better life.”

Everyday Americans also face major struggles in life, but little that goes wrong in our world can compare to anything that goes on in the world of children without clean water and confronted by deprivation. Yet, while we complain “they all seem really happy.”

If more students or people in general contributed to a devastating situation and took a step out of their egotistical world, perhaps lives would slowly begin to change forever.

Just by dedicating time and effort for two weeks, lives were changed in South Africa — not only for the children who were given water, but also for the people who gave them water.

 As time goes on, Americans will still be selfish and South Africans will still be suffering, but if more people are inspired to make a difference then two completely different worlds may come together hand-in-hand and alter the outlook on life perpetually.

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A tale of two teachers

By Gary Hinds and Courtney Harris/J-Line Writers ~
 
For Tara Bain, the H2JoJo Project was a mission to open the eyes of students here and to enhance lives of children there. For Shannon O’Brien, the journey to South Africa was one that touched her soul as a teacher and her heart as a mother.
 

Tara Bain with a young South African woman

Tara Bain: The Power of Water

By Gary Hinds/J-Line Writer

As an ESL teacher, Tara Bain welcomed many students from Africa to her classroom. In 2009, Bain made the reverse journey by going from her classroom to Africa.

 “I felt that if I traveled to Africa, I could better understand what/where my students came from,” said Bain.

During that trip, Bain saw poverty like she had never seen before, but she said she also saw resilience and beauty in the land.

The 2009 journey inspired her to found an organization to help children in Africa have fresh clean water. Over winter break, the H2JoJo project installed giant water jugs at five different schools

Bain worked for months on this project, while at the same time, teaching and caring for her own two children.

“Ha, I don’t have time for hobbies,” joked Bain. “H2JoJo has consumed a year of my life, so I would say it was a major hobby for me.”

 When Bain has free time, she said she spends it reading, watching her son play sports or indulging in girl time with her daughter.

 During the H2JoJo trip, Bain and her team Bain also gave several families clothes and food. She says that it taught her that one person can make a big change, no matter how little or big they do.

Shannon O'Brien holds a baby during a visit to the Woodhouse school in South Africa

Shannon O’Brien: “We know that their lives are better”

By Courtney Harris/J-Line Writer

When Shannon O’Brien walked into the Woodhouse School in South Africa, she was amazed by the paintings on the wall of the classrooms instructing students to care of their books. Wash your hands after you eat. Don’t rip pages. Don’t lose books. Don’t break the spine of the book.

O’Brien, a reading teacher at Atascocita High School, was stunned by the difference between students here, who often lose books, and the students there, who treasure their books.

O’Brien was one of the teachers who went to South Africa over winter break to participate in the H2JoJo project started by AHS teacher Tara Bain.

The goal of the H2JoJo project was to bring clean water to the schools in South Africa. In addition to O’Brien and Bain, three students from Atascocita High School and four from other Humble ISD schools who also traveled to South Africa.

The H2JoJo project provided five large water tanks to schools.

O’Brien said she became very full of emotions when she saw the students faces when the cans were brought to the schools.

“Once we were gone, we know that their lives are better,” said O’ Brien.

O’Brien said that her personal favorite of all the schools was the Woodhouse School because of the paintings on the wall teaching the students how to take care of their books.

The kids were very excited and happy when they saw the tanks being set up in the school yards, said Tara Bain. After the tanks were completely set up, children herded toward the container and started drinking from it.

“The best part of the project was being able to complete the job,” said O’Brien. “We didn’t just have good intentions; we fulfilled what we promised to do.”

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Christmas in Africa

By Kelly Carcamo/J-Line Writer ~                             

Christmas 2010 was different than they had ever imagined.

Instead of gathering around a brightly-decorated tree with family and friends, the students and teachers from Humble ISD  helped villagers in South Africa get clean and fresh water. Instead of getting and opening gifts, they donated uniforms, toys, and candy to children they had never met before.

These students and teachers decided to spend their holidays as part of the H2JoJo Project, a mission to make lives better and healthier by bringing clean water to South Africa.

“Knowing that they have the water, that’s the story,” said Atascocita High School teacher Tara Bain, who spearheaded the project.

For the H2JoJo team, Christmas meant looking at children’s faces as they receive presents, knowing that the youngsters could have better lives and not be worried about water.

Some team members felt homesick, and thought about their families hundreds of miles away, admitted Shannon O’Brien, another AHS teacher who was on the H2JoJo team.

“But, ultimately,” said O’Brien. “Christmas was a good day.”

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Facebook journey to Africa

By Bri’Anna Dilbeck/J-Line Writer ~               

Journeying to South Africa was a life-changing experience for the students and teachers who participated in the H2JoJo Project.

The group, led by Atascocita High School teacher Tara Bain, spent winter break tackling a major issue: the lack of clean water in rural homeland schools.

That effort – complete with moments of struggle and joy – was documented on the group’s Facebook page, where Bain and others shared their experiences of raising money, buying the H2JoJo water tanks, boarding planes, and actually being in Africa.

June 26, 2010, 8:28 pm: “Car wash was a success! Now on to our next fund raiser…”

Bain was dedicated and enthused about raising the money. Fund-raisers played a big part in getting H2JoJo up and running.

November 7, 2010, 8:59pm: “Six more weeks and we will be in Africa. Humble ISD has really come through for us.”

As the H2JoJo group got closer to heading out, Bain gave thanks to Humble ISD and appreciation for the help they’ve given the project.

November 12, 2010, 1:24pm: “Just purchased the JoJo cans and plane tickets to South Africa! Really excited about the project and the hands on learning experience the kids will get to have.”

The learning experience was an important part of the project. The Humble ISD students learned by giving water to South African children, as well by seeing that life can sometimes be a struggle for others.

December, 5, 2010, 5:42pm: “13 suitcases packed and ready to go for our adopted orphans and families. Thanks to all the groups who adopted and helped out!”

In another post, Bain described that the H2JoJo travelers had also packed over 200 beanie babies for the orphans. After leaving on December 18, Bain and the others made it to South Africa safely.

December 20, 2010, 1:59pm: “WOW….we installed the first JoJo can today and it was a whopper of a can! The learners and educators were so excited! We had traditional dancing for our efforts! The students did such a great job today – they all worked and pitched it!”

A very important moment in the students’ and teachers’ journey would be the installment of the first JoJo can. Even though toys and clean water couldn’t be given to everyone, Bain and the others felt accomplished by the end of their trip.

January 2, 3:21pm: “We all arrived safely today – thank you God for safe travels, no one got hurt or sick and we all experienced more than we thought we ever could!”

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Putting a face on an epidemic

By Kelly Rubalcaba and Courtney Mayfield/J-Line Writers~                                      
In South Africa, reminders of the epidemic are everywhere. On billboards, posters, T-shirts, and painted signs.

“I know my HIV status,” reads one man’s red T-shirt. “HIV AIDS,” announces a sign, with the two words separated by a red ribbon symbolizing the fight against the disease.

 HIV is a problem everywhere, but in South Africa, HIV/AIDS is one of the main causes of death. More than 300,000 people die from HIV/ AIDS every year.

The Atascocita H2JoJo Project went to South Africa to deliver clean water to schools, but soon gained a deeper understanding of HIV/AIDS. 

“It makes you realize they’re very much the same as you and I, but their circumstances are incredibly different,” said Shannon O’brien, a reading teacher at Atascocita High School.

According to a New York Times article, South Africa has the highest rate of AIDS in the the world. At one point, AIDS groups wanted to distribute condoms at the World Cup as an awareness program, but an official sponsor rejected the proposal.

According to UNAIDS, South Africa is home to worlds largest population of people living with HIV. In 2009, nearly 310,000 people died from AIDS.

For 18 years, every December 1 has been World AIDS Day — a day to raise awareness, celebrate victories, and remember lives lost to the disease.

However, for the students and teachers who went on the H2jojo Project, no symbolic memorial day is needed. They realize HIV/AIDS is no longer just a sign or ceremony; it now has a face.

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A thirst for clean water

By Ariana Yendrey, Crystal Loredo and Anthony Shelley /J-Line Writers ~               

Every 20 seconds a child in Africa dies from a water-borne disease. The continent’s rural areas have no access to clean water. About one billion people don’t have access to water.

In countries like South Africa, many natives must travel to retrieve the water they desperately need from underground wells that look like a hole covered in algae, mud, and sand.

Often, in places without access to clean water, water is reused to wash clothes and clean dishes, but some of the used water is consumed, causing illness and death.

Many women and children die from water-borne diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation. Diarrhea and malaria are the leading causes of child death under the age of five.

“The majority of the water there is polluted,” said Tara Bain, a teacher at Atascocita High School who created the H2JoJo Project to provide five South African schools with giant “JoJo” cans that contain enough clean water for a month.

Twelve people – students and teachers from different Humble ISD schools – went on the 16-day trip. They said it was an emotional experience none of them will forget.

Shannon O’Brien, another teacher who went on the trip, said she will never forget the “whoosh” of the water inside the cans.

“Hearing the water fill the cans was a pretty amazing sound,” said O’Brien.

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Different worlds, different schools

By Wesley Peterson/J-Line Writer ~                    

Approximately 33 percent of children in Africa don’t have the opportunity to complete their education, according to UNICEF.

After seeing the poor living conditions for children in Africa, Tara Bain, an English teacher from Atascocita High School, founded H2JoJo. The program was started in an effort to provide water and other goods to schools in South Africa.

“What I learned in South Africa is that children have to overcome many obstacles just to get an education,” said Bain after she returned from the group’s recent trip to South Africa.

Schools in the United States and schools in Africa are in completely different worlds. The average day for students in Africa is filled with complications and hardships.

Here is a look at the typical school day in the two places:

U.S. schools

6:30 – Access to warm water for showers and food. Multiple options for transportation are available to all students.

7:30 – School begins. Students have free access to needed materials. Teachers are always present and  prepared for the day.     

12:00 – Children have multiple meal options at lunch at varying prices. Meals are always nutritious and safe.

3:00 – Transportation from school is provided  by the schools. Extracurricular activities are offered to all students.   

African schools

6:30 – African children often must go to school hungry and under-clothed.  Transportation is not an option, and children must walk miles to get to school (sometimes  without shoes).

7:30 – When children get to school, teachers aren’t always there. Access to pencils and paper is scarce.

12:00 – School lunch usually consists of “pap,” a gritty, flavorless mixture. Vegetables and meats are a luxury.

3:00 – Children must make the long walk back home, with little or no water. Children must prepare for the day ahead.

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One day at a time

By Amber Hemple/J-Line Writer ~                                 

They stayed for 16 days in a place many people would not go. They helped grade school children get the water they need to stay healthy.

They are the H2JoJo team, a group of Humble ISD students and teachers who brought clean water to South African schools in need.

They were on a mission. They were on a adventure. They were saving the world.

And a glimpse of their itinerary illustrates the whirlwind pace of their journey:

Saturday, December 18, 2010:  The H2JoJo team landed in Johannesburg, South Africa at 5:05 PM. There, they met their hosts, Oran and Gloria Bain, and slept at the airport’s Grand Hotel for the night.

Monday, December 20, 2010: The group spent most of there day working on a project at the Inkanyeti School, where they interviewed two children from the school, Jabulani and Phummy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010: The H2JoJo team’s fifth day in South Africa began at the Mhlosheni School. Later they brought Christmas to a family in need and delivered a wheelchair to a disabled child.

Thursday, December23, 2010: The team completed their project at the School Sukamani and later had a feeding program Christmas party with 50 children.

Christmas Eve: They brought Christmas to Schagen Primary School, and distributed gifts to orphans. Later, they provided uniforms and shoes to fifteen students.

Christmas: They celebrated Christmas with their host family,  brought Christmas to Donsani orphanage and prepared for KNP (an African Holiday).

Friday, December 31, 2010: The team visited an elephant sanctuary and celebrated New Year’s with the host family.

Saturday, January 1, 2011: With their mission accomplished, the H2JoJo group drove to Johannesburg and departed for the United States.

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