Betsy Bargsley: When I mentioned the school was about the size of Amarillo High and needed water, he said, ‘Dude, let’s do it.’

By Jon Mark Beilue |

There’s nothing like seeing some abject poverty up close to make a lasting impression.

Betsy Bargsley spent last summer in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa. Julie Miller, an aunt, is executive director of the Adera Foundation, designed to help the economically stricken families of the third-world African country of 94 million.

The Amarillo High senior was helping with a feeding program at Hiber Primary School, which has 2,600 students in the impoverished area of Corra. To wash dishes, buckets of water had to be transported to the school from the foundation’s office.

“We were done and that water had soap in it, and little bits of chewed rice, things like that, and this kid walked up and grabbed a cup and started drinking from the bucket,” Bargsley said. “He said that’s the only water he would have for the next day or so.”

In mid-October, she approached Amarillo High economics teacher David Williams with an idea.

Williams’ classes have always adopted a small project in the fall, usually to help a local family around Christmas.

Bargsley had the idea of a different project: Helping unseen strangers 13,500 miles away. It was different all right, but certainly needed.

“When I told him about it, he just loved it,” Bargsley said.

“When I mentioned the school was about the size of Amarillo High and needed water, he said, ‘Dude, let’s do it.’”

For the record, Bargsley is not a dude, but Amarillo High is sure doing it, probably more than any thought was possible.

It’s called the Hiber Water Solution. It’s a project under the Adera Foundation to get running water to the school, to fund a well for water and remodel a dilapidated latrine system. Running water at the school would likely go beyond the school to nearby families.

“So my (95) students got pretty fired up about it,” Williams said. “The conversation was that maybe we can make some T-shirts and sell them and raise $2,000. That was our goal, $2,000, and the kids got pretty excited about it.”

This being an economics class, a marketing and business plan were designed. A T-shirt and a T-shirt inside a Nalgene water bottle with assorted stickers were sold separately — $20 for the shirt, $35 for the package.

They ordered 144 of the T-shirt/water bottle packages and another 115 of the shirts. By ordering in volume, $17.80 of each package went directly to the Hiber Water Solution.

“The foundation said that’s way better than some of these things are doing,” Williams said.

It was just word of mouth and a few posters around school. It sold out in 24 hours. The order arrived Nov. 3. They were packed on Nov. 4 and sold out by 9 a.m. Nov. 5.

“People in Amarillo are very generous in general,” Bargsley said, “but the main reason why a lot of kids are fired up is because of David Williams. He has the ability to make anything seem awesome. So when he told kids about the shirts and what it was for, they did not think a second about it.”

Already, there’s $4,150 raised specifically for the project. When Bargsley spoke at last week’s Community Prayer Breakfast, some business leaders approached her later to say they would match what Amarillo High School raised.

Now there’s a rather bold idea to see if they can raise the $23,000 necessary for the entire well in the $57,000 project. In other words, 10 times what they originally hoped.

Another order was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday — 170 water bottles and 320 shirts. On Thursday night, Jason’s Deli will send 25 percent of its sales to the project. Some of Williams’ students will be there to fill any orders for customers.

There’s one last plan to market some orders at Amarillo High’s two feeder middle schools, Bonham and Crockett.

It’s a challenge to get many of us to buy into a project thousands of miles away, especially when there’s need all around. Williams wondered the same, how much enthusiasm there would be for a remote school in a remote country.

He didn’t wonder long. Bargsley was able to personalize her experiences with names and faces, and that was the start.

“I’ve been blown away seeing how excited kids have been for the success in this,” Williams said. “Reaching a goal has been a driving force. When you see kids get that excited, to see 20 to 30 stay late after school, to come in early to package orders, that’s kind of special.”

Source: Amarillo Globe-News
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