By Jim Shilander
A chance meeting at a church may ultimately lead to providing water for villages in Africa, thanks in part to a number of San Clemente High School students.
Through the charity Wisdom Spring, which is located in Laguna Beach, San Clemente High School’s “Healing Hands,” group will be conducting the first annual Healing Hands Walk October 20 at the San Clemente Pier. The event will raise money to build a well in a village in Kenya, as well as educate children in Burkina Faso, where Wisdom Spring has already built a number of wells.
SCHS junior Emmy Lombard said she was volunteering at a church in Laguna Beach during her freshman year where there were a number of charitable organizations looking for help. It was there she met Susan Hough, a recent transplant to the area from Virginia, where Wisdom Spring was founded.
“She just really called to me,” Lombard said of Hough and the organization. “It seemed like they made the biggest impact of all the groups there. I think you should do more than just live your life, you should try to help someone else.”
“I was all in,” Lombard said. “I started contacting people right away.” Lombard originally reached out to a small circle of friends and others at her church, then, last year, brought the group, which she called “Healing Hands,” to San Clemente High School. There, she said, it didn’t necessarily take much to find people who wanted to help the cause. “We had at least 50 people at the first meeting.” Since then, she said, membership has stayed high, but a core group of about 14 students emerged to lead the organization.
Lombard came up with the idea for the walk in order to provide a connection to the struggles of the African villages the money was being raised for. “I came up with the idea because we’d be walking along, thinking about what we’re so lucky to have. They have to walk for water, so we should walk for water and be thankful for what we have.”
Kasey Marchant was one of those students who got involved after Lombard started the organization.
“We became like a family,” she noted. “We felt like we were making a difference there, but also making a difference in ourselves. It’s helped me become a more well-rounded person.” In addition to planning the charity event, Marchant said the club had taken the time to find out a lot more about the cultures of the areas they were helping. Marchant’s younger sister, Delaney, also designed the organization’s logo.
Hough said she’s been inspired by the work of the students.
“These kids are fabulous young people. They have pulled this together so fast, it’s just amazing.”
Hough was also inspired by a meeting at a church to start the organization back in Virginia, and hearing about the struggles of children throughout under-developed parts of Africa. The Wisdom Spring website notes that some African women can walk as far as 25 miles to carry water, and that children begin carrying water as young as three-years-old. Only 27 percent of children in Burkina Faso attend school, and 449 children out of every 1,000 born die before age 5. Hough has visited the country several times as a part of the well-building effort.
“I believe every child has a special gift to give,” Hough said. “These children are walking up to six hours a day, just to get water.” The organization has already built 26 wells in Burkina Faso and Ghana, its southern neighbor. Kenya will be the first country in east Africa that will have wells built in it by the organization. Hough said that beyond simply providing fresh local water the organization’s goal is to keep native cultures alive and thriving.
What started with Lombard at San Clemente High soon spread across city lines to Laguna Beach, where Hough’s son goes to school. A number of Laguna students will be joining those from San Clemente on the walk. The group currently meets at the home of Lombard’s grandparents, Barbara and Scott Hutchinson, as well as in Laguna Beach. The walk is actually the group’s second fundraiser. The group also had a booth at the Goddess Festival in Laguna Beach.
“It feels amazing,” Lombard said. “It’s so awesome to see my idea become real.”
Marchant agreed. “I’m looking forward to it so much. It’s our first fundraiser. I hope it goes well.”
The student group originally planned on doing the walk last March, but couldn’t get the proper permits from the city to do the walk at the San Clemente Pier. That was resolved at the end of the school year, leading to event October 20. Lombard said she was hoping to have about 300 people at the event and raise approximately $10,000.
Hough said that while the walk may have been delayed in San Clemente, it was still a major coup for the students to put it together so quickly. Walks in Virginia, she said have typically taken more than a year to organize.
Registration for the event is available by going online at www.wisdomspringinc.org/healinghands. The event begins at 8 a.m. Registration for adults is $20 and $10 for students and children. Registration can also be done on site the day of the walk, which will move along the beach to T Street. There will be a five and 10-kilometer walk as a part of the event.