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    Friday, June 26th, was the last day of the SkillsUSA National Conference, held in Louisville, KY. The last day was dedicated to completing various community service projects around the city of Louisville, one of the which partnered with WaterStep and Kids Against Hunger as they partnered to provide students with the opportunity to make an impact on a global scale.

    John Darr, SkillsUSA spokesperson, described SkillsUSA as a network of students, teachers, and industry representatives working together towards the common goal of creating a skilled workforce for America’s future.

    According to Darr, there are over 360,000 members in this program, 6,000 of which are high school and college students chosen to come to Louisville, KY to compete. Here, the students competed in various specialties such as welding, culinary arts, robotics, and many more. Over 1 million square foot of space was used for competition, and those who won received scholarships to specific schools, while others received job offers.

    Moreover, Darr expressed that this year was special because WaterStep and Kids Against Hunger were allowing the students to make an international impact.

    The idea of the WaterStep and Kids Against Hunger project was to send food packages, as well as water purifiers and other necessary equipment, to South Sudan. Mark Hogg, CEO and Founder of WaterStep, was contacted to be a part of the SkillsUSA National Conference, and he saw it as the perfect moment to team up with Dale Oelker, Co-Founder of Kids Against Hunger, to make a difference for these students as well as in the world. Oelker was ecstatic to work with WaterStep. Because Kids Against Hunger has a partnership with a feeding center in South Sudan, Oelker saw it as a chance to bring aid to the region, which has been under the stress of civil strife. Oelker also saw this as an opportunity to bring William Manyoa, a South Sudanese refugee from church, to tell his story.

    The project has three stations for the students:  one for preparing food packages with Kids Against Hunger; one for listening to Manyoa and learning about the conditions of South Sudan; and one for learning how the water purifiers worked and how the shoe donations assisted with the funding of WaterStep projects, like this one in South Sudan.

    Manyoa explained that he was one of the “Lost Boys” who had found a new home in Louisville in 2001. He has graduated from the University of Louisville in 2012 with a degree in accounting, and he holds multiple jobs in Louisville, on top of helping with other Sudanese residents as needed. That day at SkillsUSA, Manyoa spoke to the students about the living conditions in South Sudan and how it was adversely affected by the internal struggles that started in 2013. There have been hundreds of people displaced by the fighting and living with a lack of food and safe water to drink. Many of them live in fear and insecurity, while fighting malnutrition and water-related diseases like cholera and malaria.

    Manyoa stated his appreciation of WaterStep’s and Kids Against Hunger’s efforts to deliver food and the resources to create safe water to an area wrought by war, and consequently, poor living conditions. He encouraged students to appreciate what they have and to sympathize and reach out to others in need.

    At the end of the day, 100 boxes of food were packed (enough to feed 700 children for a month) and two water purifiers, along with the necessary equipment to set up water treatment stations, were all set to be sent to the feeding center in South Sudan. The exercise had a positive impact on students- high school teachers, Brandee and Evan Baker, from Bucks County Technical High School in Pennsylvania, had 18 students participate, and they all loved it.

    The Bakers explained how the students were inspired to give back to others and to be appreciative of what they do have. They learned how easy it was to make a difference and that the donation of a couple shoes could help bring water purification to countries in need. The Bakers indicated how some students wanted to bring WaterStep’s shoe donations back to their schools and hometowns. One of their students, Gina Braker, was excited to learn that with any little bit of action that you can do, such as donating shoes, that it could positively affect others in a large manner.

    Another student, Walter Babiy, was so moved by this initiative that he removed his own pair of shoes off of his feet and offered them as his first shoe donation. Everyone in the crowd was moved by this genuine movement and passion to help others around the world.

    Hogg mentioned one student who said, “I thought I was going to just throw mulch, but I got to save lives today, and that’s what I really wanted to do.”

    This illustrates how much this community service project affected the students and allowed them to make an international impact on the world and within their communities. Hogg added that this year, GoJo, a hand hygiene business, sponsored the service projects, and GoJo expressed excitement to meet WaterStep and wanted to connect with them over WaterStep’s health programs.

    Through the partnership with SkillsUSA and Kids Against Hunger with Manyoa, WaterStep was able to reach a larger audience, and as Hogg put it, “ [it] has helped connect WaterStep with a larger national footprint.”


    Photo by Irena Tran and Mark Hogg

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    About Irena Tran

    I studied Art at UofL and now physical therapy at Bellarmine University. I love art, sports, and good food. I'm always looking for something new to try and new concepts to photograph!

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