What began as a research project turned into Brentwood Middle raising more than $20,000 to help South Sudan during its water crisis.

As a part of their curriculum, sixth grade students read and completed a project on A Long Walk to Water. They learned about the global water crisis and civil wars in Sudan. The book told the story of Salva Dut, a Lost Boy in the Dinka tribe in South Sudan, as he searched for safety, water and food.

After learning about the water crisis, hearing about Dut’s journey made a big impact on the students.

“They kept asking if the book was about a real person,” said BMS sixth grade language arts teacher Whitney Mays. “It just kept growing from there.”

The students and teachers started fundraising for Water for South Sudan, a nonprofit organization founded by Dut himself. The organization raises funds to build wells in South Sudan and provide clean, safe water for natives.

To raise money, the students used their persuasive essay skills to write letters for their family and friends.

“Everybody donated some money to help,” said sixth grade Aryan Sharma. “We printed out five papers that we sent to anyone we knew.”

Some students went above and beyond with their fundraising efforts.

“I went to downtown Franklin with my violin and performed on Main Street,” said sixth grader Ivy Allen. “I made about $80 in a few hours.”

Sixth grader Lily Van Allen also went out of her way to raise money.

“Our teachers told us we were going to write letters to our family to get them to donate, but I also put up a stand in my church and raised money that way,” Lily said.

The more involved the students became, the more they wanted to continue raising money.

“Knowing that Salva went through that, it just made me want to help out more,” Ivy said. “Knowing that we helped so many people makes everyone feel good.”

Through the organization, a single well costs $15,000 to build. Brentwood Middle raised more than $23,000 to help people in South Sudan have access to clean water.

“I’m just like them,” Lily said. “I was just born in a different country. There’s nothing different about me from them, and I just want to help.”