A Tank of Bright Water

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With Armidale Waldorf School Teacher Angela Earth

The Steiner curriculum introduces a building project in Year 3, with students involved in design, measurement and construction of their project. They also learn about its artistic possibilities, and Armidale Waldorf School Teacher Angela Earth took time out of a year’s leave to help transform one of her class projects – a water tank – into a work of vibrant colour.

Why did you decide to create a water tank in the first place?

The tank was a fitting follow-on to a building project I shared with my first Class 3 at the Armidale Waldorf School. That was a six-poled, roofed pagoda, where children could rest or lunch in the shade. However, a tin roof without a water tank felt like a job half-done, so now we can harvest water for our flourishing school garden.

The design is very unusual. How did you come up with it?

Not long after finishing the pagoda, I heard from another Steiner teacher who had travelled with his high school class to help communities in Vanuatu after it had been devastated by Cyclone Pam in 2015. They found that fresh water was scarce, as rooves had been torn off and plastic rainwater tanks destroyed. 

However, one tank had withstood the brunt of the strong winds and kept the communities on Pele Island in drinking water for weeks. It had actually been made by hand from mesh tubing filled with sand, which was then coiled into place like an enormous pot. The tubing was rendered inside and out with a slurry of clay and concrete, and the whole thing cost about $400 – a quarter that of a commercial tank of the same size. 

Because of this, the women of the area wanted to raise funds so they could loan money to families to build their own tanks of this design. They formed a delightfully-named group called “The-Bank-for-Clean-Water-for-the-Women-of-Erako Half Road”, and it swelled from 10 members to 125 members as they rallied to help their communities recover. If they could just get started, even if the families did not have an income, repayments could be met by selling water, a bucket a time.

We felt this was a project worth supporting at our own School in Armidale. The class had also recently completed science lessons that followed the imagined journey of a single drop of water from a river near us to the sea, up into the sky and back to our school garden as rain. We therefore had a new appreciation for water and its life-giving capacity. Also, it was a hot summer and none of us could bear the thought of being thirsty and not having clean water to drink. 

So the class baked lots of scones and florentines and hosted a number of morning teas for our school community. Parents added in other yummy treats, and collectively we raised $900, enough money for two and a quarter tanks in Vanuatu!

This inspired us to make our own tank and Terry Manley, our skilled maintenance and grounds person, got plans and organised the resources such as the mesh tubing. He also refined the design to suit our playground and guided the completion of the tank in 2017 during weekly building lessons.

The mosaic looks like a spectacular – but big – project. How did this unfold?

We came up with it about a year ago after talking with Tess Cullen, a talented artist who recently moved to Armidale. Children from many classes pitched in, and Terry and Ralph Webster, another staff member, both helped tirelessly. Tess has done a fabulous job overseeing the project, designing the garden theme and teaching us all the skills required to mosaic. Under her watchful eye, the children completed sensational flowers, leaves and butterflies, and many parents have helped to mosaic the spaces in between. Carol Pritchard, another local mosaic artist, joined Tess and myself over numerous weekends to bring the work to completion.

There are so many little pieces! How many tiles do you think were used?

Too many to count – the mosaic is over 10 square metres in total! Most of the tiles are from broken crockery donated by parents and friends. The support received from our vibrant school community has been terrific and made all the difference.

What educational benefits has this creation provided for the children at the school?

The children loved learning the new skills introduced in the building and mosaic lessons, not to mention honing their culinary and maths skills when planning the morning teas, which they also served. They also learned perseverance, but it was even more powerful for us as a class to reflect on how it would feel to be thirsty, yet not be able to get a drink. This helped open our hearts and minds to the plight of others. So perhaps the most precious lesson of all was to discover that working together can truly make a difference, as well as being lots of fun.

Any final words?

Fresh water is the best drink in the world. We dream of a world were none go thirsty!

Thanks Angela.

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