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Looking for a Water Friendship

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Catholic and Public schools in Guelph invited us into four of their Grade 8 classrooms in May as part of their H2awesome annual water literacy program. Two weeks before our visit, 600 students from across the County attended the opening event with several keynote talks. Based on this notice we know that:

Emily DeSousa gave the keynote address at the event with speakers Jan Sherman and The Water Brothers also speaking.

DeSousa is an Environmental Governance student who fights to bring marine conservation issues to the front of environmental discussions. Sherman is an Anishinaabe Elder, she began the day with an Indigenous opening and closed the day with closing remarks. The Water Brothers are Alex and Tyler Mifflin; they are passionate about the subject of water conservation and use this passion to teach others through their Eco-Adventure TV series.

Our workshop started by practicing seeing the world as a series of relationships, rather than independent objects. We had fun naming the possible relationships between the following pairs.

For instance, students know that a car needs a road, students and teachers create learning, morning comes before afternoon, freshwater flows into saltwater, hunger is solved with food, and a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Students then offered their own pairs, while the class guessed some of the key relationships.

While not difficult, this practice shifts how we often describe our environment -- as a collection of parts, beings, and elements -- while missing out on how they are connected and working in relationship with one another.

Since this workshop was called Water Friendship, the next step was developing a profile of what a good friendship looks like. For this, we asked students to write out their answers on their own and then we compiled them as a class. These are the responses from one of the classes. Questions are in blue and the answers are in black.

What do friends . . .

Then we broke up into groups. We needed some examples of what a good friendship with water looks like based on the tips above and our focus on relationships rather than parts. Students could decide if they want to join the writing group, the drawing group, or the performance group. 20 minutes later, they presented their examples to the whole class. Click on the side arrows or thumbnail image to browse some of their work.

Knowing about our connection to water is important, but with these drawings (as a small sample of the performances and total work we saw) we can see it. Like a friendship, we can see how we choose to spend time together, how we hold respect for water, and how this all makes us feeling protective -- we don't want harm to come to this flowing and precious element.

Many of the student examples reminded us about conservation and contamination, however there is still much exploring to be done. We need a full spectrum of friendship actions that relate to water, not just 'its' quantity and quality. We can be adding more practices that illustrate how we learn from water, how we give gifts to water, and how we need to share our thoughts and feelings with water. This Water Friendship workshop is based on a pilot project Paul Baines initiated through the Great Lakes Commons in 2017. You can read the full report here.

Only July 18, Paul is hosting a Water Friendship workshop as part of the Commons Waters exhibition in Cambridge. If your organization or school would like a workshop addressing our connection to water and this Blue Community project, please email us at: or leave a comment below.

By Paul Baines

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