Hopewell Avenue Public School in Ottawa is working towards the distinction of being the first elementary school designated as a “Blue Community.”
The school, which is home to more than 900 students in Kindergarten to Grade 8, welcomed Council of Canadians Honorary Chairperson Maude Barlow and Water Campaigner Vi Bui in their gymnasium today and listened to them speak about the importance of protecting water.
Barlow, a long-time water justice advocate, talked to the students about how they can make a difference for water, even at a young age. She told them the story of Robyn Hamlyn, a youth who was so inspired by the Blue Communities Project, she helped her hometown of Kingston become a Blue Community and then took the idea even further, making presentations across Ontario to encourage other municipalities to join in.
The Council of Canadians worked with the Canadian Union of Public Employees to create the Blue Communities Project 10 years ago. Recently Eau Secours in Quebec joined as a partner. The Blue Communities Project gives people tools they can use with their local city or town council, asking the municipality to adopt three resolutions supporting water as a human right, banning the use of bottled water at municipal events and in municipal buildings, and committing to public water and wastewater services. There are now more than 60 Blue Communities across Canada and around the world.
Barlow noted the importance of reaching young people with the message that everyone, no matter their age, can be proactive in protecting water for future generations.
“It was so moving to feel the energy and commitment to justice coming from children, some of them just four years old. We started a new phase of the Blue Communities movement today, one that will be spread by kids to kids. Such a fabulous day!” she said.
Bui agreed the young students brought a special energy to the initiative. “We presented to two groups of students, one with ages 4-8 and the other 8 and over. They were so keen, everyone raising their hands with ideas on what they could do, and what the school could do,” she said. “The students on the stage in one of the photos are student leaders who were involved from the beginning. They did all the introduction, the whole morning was student-led, and they wanted to be the core group working on Blue Communities at Hopewell and become ambassadors to other schools.”
The idea to make Hopewell a Blue Community came after one of the school’s teachers heard Barlow speak about her new book, Whose Water is it, Anyway? Taking Water Into Public Hands at a book tour event in Ottawa earlier this year. The book lays bare the stark facts of the growing global water crisis, and outlines how people in cities and communities around the world have been empowered through the Blue Communities Project to protect water.
“We met with the teachers and some of the students last week, and hope to come back when they put together their Water Week in March,” said Bui. “Teachers want this to be an educational opportunity and will encourage students to go through a learning journey about what it means to become a Blue Community.”
The students will learn things like the history of the United Nations declaration of water as a human right, how some people, including many Indigenous peoples, do not have clean safe water to drink, the impact of the climate crisis on water, the danger posed by bottled water corporations that take water and sell it for profit, and more. They will also talk about ways they can protect water by drinking tap water instead of botlled water, by advocating for safe water for all First Nations, and by speaking to friends, neighbours, family members and elected officials about protecting water for future generations.