Water Warriors work around pandemic to fight for clean water

Last summer, H20 For Life’s “Race to Reduce” received a $10,000 prize from the organization Lead4Change, a privately funded foundation focused on building leadership among students. From left to right: Bella Butters (10th grade), Steve Hall (H2O for Life), Mari Davis (10th grade), Sophie Davis (12th grade).

In a place as filled with lakes and rivers as Minnesota, it’s easy to take access to clean water for granted. But even during a global pandemic, the Water Warriors involved with the H2O for Life program in White Bear Lake schools are doing what they can to fight for clean water across the globe.

COVID-19 changed the way students could do work on behalf of clean water. When the 2020-21 school year started, some of the projects that had already been planned for the year were scrapped. Instead, H2O for Life focused on projects that could be done virtually or with social distancing guidelines in place.

This spring, those projects include a brand new podcast centered on global water issues and a socially distanced community water walk planned for June 6. 

Ben Butters, who teaches physical education at Matoska International, has been an advisor with H20 For Life for about 10 years. Butters mentors fifth graders, but many of them have stayed involved all the way through high school, becoming Water Warriors across all ages.

“It’s so cool for kids to come together and work on something bigger than themselves,” he said. “Even last year, we still raised $8,000 and did a virtual water walk, and helped two schools in Uganda.”

His daughter, sophomore Bella Butters, is a Water Warrior and one of a small group of students who recently began the Water Warriors United podcast. 

“It’s something that can be shared at the schools, it’s a shorter length, and it’s something teachers can share with their class,” Bella said. “It’s an easy way for the community to be aware of ways to reduce water usage.”

Bella remembers participating in water walks on White Bear Lake since she was small, and becoming aware of local and global issues affecting water.

“One of the reasons why we walked to White Bear Lake was because lake levels were so low,” she said. “We would walk with the water to give us an idea of what it’s like walking for water, and make our little impact on raising lake levels.”

Thousands of people in developing communities walk miles a day to collect drinking water. Even then, the water may be unclean, causing sanitation problems and illnesses in the community. It all links to a longer chain of health and social issues that H2O for Life is working to solve.

“Education is so affected by the water crisis,” Bella said. “Many women are affected because they are responsible for getting the water and walking miles. It leads to gender inequality. Sanitation is such a huge issue; they don’t have access to a reliable toilet system, and they have to drop out during their menstruation cycle.”

Coming from the White Bear Lake school district, Bella has learned to appreciate how important education is and wants to act on behalf of those who aren’t able to have that experience due to something as basic as clean water access. 

Producing a podcast was a totally new experience for Bella and her fellow Water Warriors. H2O for Life was able to purchase a couple of microphones and computers and set up shop in an unused space at South Campus. Bella learned a completely new set of skills to do much of the recording and editing work.

The first episode of the podcast was released in late March. Bella worked with Mari Davis to interview a fellow student about her visit to Kenya, where she participated in a water walk.

The podcast is available on Spotify with the search terms “Water Warriors United,” and at anchor.fm/ben-butters.

The other big project this spring is the water walk that will take place Sunday, June 6, at West Park. The event is being organized primarily by Sophie Davis, a senior who has been involved with H2O for Life since she was in fifth grade. Over the years, she has worked on many H2O for Life projects, including testifying on legislation at the state Capitol. 

The walk on June 6 will include a raffle, live entertainment and local vendors at the park. Walkers will proceed down West Avenue carrying water to pour into the lake, symbolically mirroring the journey of people who have to walk long distances on a daily basis for drinking water.

“Everyone has the opportunity to make a difference and donate in our own community,” Davis said. “People should take advantage of that, especially in times when we are all experiencing hardships. It’s the best time to give back because it can make you feel grateful.”  

Davis plans to follow her passion for environmental health and sustainability into her future career. This fall, she will attend the University of Detroit-Mercy, where she plans to study business and entrepreneurship and play Division I lacrosse. 

“I want to start my own business that will relate to sustainability and also focuses on helping others and making a difference,” she said.

It’s a lot of work to keep up with, but Butters has been inspired to see how students have stepped up to the plate. 

“They’re getting some good lessons on how to be advocates, to collaborate with one another, keep working together and not take no for an answer,” Butters said, “to be agents of change in our community.” 

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