When teachers at St. Michaels Association for Special Education (SMASE) turn on taps, what comes out scarcely resembles water. The odorous liquid is dense with cloudy particulates, coloring it yellow, brown and even black.
“Our water looks like black, like ink from the octopus,” said Brianna Tsosie, a student at SMASE.
Clean water is a human right, and its especially crucial at SMASE, a school that serves 30 adults and 24 special needs students who, due to challenges including non-verbal autism, orthopedic impairments, and “multiple disabilities” (non-verbal and non-ambulatory), cannot participate in traditional classroom settings and require specialized medical care.
“It’s shocking that the most vulnerable students aren’t provided access to water,” said Jessie Gross, special educator at SMASE. “Their right to clean water should be something they don’t have to struggle with. This hits home when I think about my students…how medically fragile they are, how compromised their immune systems are. It’s horrible to think what would happen if that water were to ever get into their bodies.”
Despite the danger the water poses, students travel up to 200 miles to access the school, the only of its kind on the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona. Parents send their children to the school because they do not have the time, resources or expertise to care for the students. Because of the water issues at the school, students and teachers have to haul bottled water to classrooms each day for drinking, bathing and cleaning sensitive medical equipment.
The tap water at SMASE is approaching unsafe levels of lead and arsenic — which may spike from time to time. The water also contains high levels of iron, calcium, sulfate and decaying organic material, which cause the distinct odor and color. To compensate, the school spends nearly $3,000 on bottled water each year.
“Not having tap water makes a tough job even tougher,” Gross continued. “When I run out of bottled water in my classroom, I’m frantically running from building to building trying to get enough water to give a student her 2 p.m. meds. It’s already 2:15. It’s very stressful.”
The school recently partnered with DigDeep, the only global water organization working in the U.S. where millions of Americans still don’t have clean, running water at home, to build a water treatment system.
With the help of DigDeep and donations from organizations like Atlas Copco’s Water for All program, the school has reached its funding goal and can begin work on a permanent solution to provide potable water.
Water for All often works in communities around the globe to provide access to sanitary water, but sometimes the need is just as great in our own backyard. Find how you can support Water for All and continue to bring sanitary water to children like Brianna and her classmates at SMASE.
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