Forestville girl's drawings to help drill wells in Africa

Pearl Fisher, who splits her time between the Russian River towns of Forestville and Healdsburg, has busied herself with a summer project.

It’s an ambitious one for a kid of barely 7: upgrading the lives of Africans by helping them drill water wells in their villages.

“They have to walk a long, long ways to get really dirty water,” said the blue-eyed and artistic Pearl. “Sometimes, because the water is not good, people die. Especially babies.”

The daughter of Greg Fisher and Kim Dow learned earlier this year from her first-grade teacher that not everybody on Earth is able to get water by just turning on a faucet or hose, or pressing a glass to the dispenser on a refrigerator door.

“I thought the whole world had everything like I did,” Pearl said.

Her view was changed and her heart touched by the International Baccalaureate unit taught by her now-former teacher, Jeanette Inness, at the private Healdsburg School. Pearl is on summer break and in the fall will enter second grade.

The instructional unit by Inness focused on fresh, clean water and how scarce it is for many hundreds of millions of people.

To give Pearl and her fellow first-graders a sense of what it’s like to walk a great distance, fill a container with water and then carry it home, Inness had the 22 students lug 1-gallon jugs of water over an outdoor course at the school.

“I did it when it was kind of hot outside,” Inness recalled. “I made them do a couple of laps. The kids were exhausted.”

They’d gotten a taste of how it would be to have to carry water a long ways, and they imagined all the things they couldn’t do if they spent hours a day doing that.

It struck Pearl to learn that many people, many children, must walk miles to obtain water. “We have to walk basically 10 steps,” she said.

It saddened the Santa Rosa-born Forestville resident to discover that in parts of Africa and other countries, girls must commit so much time to walking for water they can’t go to school, play, make art or do many of the things she loves to do.

Pearl decided she had to do something.

With the help of her parents, she researched international charitable organizations that help to improve access to clean water. She chose the Oklahoma-based Water4, which trains villagers to drill and maintain their own wells.

Pearl set a goal to raise enough money to provide the training and equipment necessary for the drilling of one well: about $2,000. Prior to her 7th birthday in early July, she announced she wanted no presents but would welcome donations to Water4.

The birthday girl also did something else.

In the past, Pearl had worked with her mom, who operates a graphic-design studio in Healdsburg, to create simple notecards adorned with her artwork. She sold the cards to raise money for extras such as violin and dance lessons and carnival-ride bracelets at the Sonoma County Fair.

Pearl put together a set of six small cards, decorated on the front with her drawings of animals. Impressed by her humanitarian project, Larry Jacobs of Santa Rosa’s GW2 Printing offered to print the cards for free.

Pearl is selling the cards and also soliciting direct donations to Water4 through a website, Several retailers in Healdsburg, where Pearl goes to school and her mom works, are carrying the cards.

The businesses are Yoga on Center, Comstock Wines, Dragonfly Floral and the Valero gas station on Dry Creek Road.

So far, Pearl has attracted to her well-drilling mission a bit more than $5,200.

Among the adults astounded are her parents, of course, and her former teacher.

“I am just so proud of Pearl,” Inness said. “It’s amazing that my lesson about water resonated with her.”

The teacher observed that Pearl is extremely empathetic and “the kind of girl who always thinks one step ahead.”

It pleases Inness, too, to know that some of the 7-year-old’s classmates have been moved to pitch in with her water project.

“One kid can make a difference,” Inness said. “I try to inspire my kids to think the same way.”

Pearl will admit that at first she didn’t think she would reach her goal of collecting $2,000 for Water4, which has told her the first well-drilling project she’ll finance will benefit pygmy villagers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Pearl feels good about that. She can’t say exactly when she’ll stop raising money for people who spend much of their lives trudging for probably not very good water.

“I’m doing it until I can’t do it any more,” she said.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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