Youth Change Ireland’s (Water) Course

Students from St. Brendan’s National School in Kilmeena, Ireland, present their freshwater conservation work to the National Geographic Freshwater team. Photograph by Martin McIntyre

The dry Colorado River may be starkly different from the green landscape and rushing rivers of County Mayo in western Ireland, but students in the county have become water ambassadors – teaching themselves, their families, and their community about the importance of water conservation efforts.

Water was a hot topic at Ireland’s National Science Week, where a panel of local, national, and global water experts (including Nat Geo Freshwater Fellow and Water Currents host Sandra Postel), came together to discuss Clean Water: 2040.  The Mayo County Council’s Enterprise and Investment Unit invited Sandra and the Nat Geo team to participate in the week’s events. With the new enterprise Irish Water aiming to install water meters in all homes by 2016, Irish residents will begin receiving bills based on consumption. (See “In Ireland, Water Will No Longer Be Free.”)

Students Rally Around Water Conservation

St. Brendan’s National School in Kilmeena, a rural town in County Mayo, won Ireland’s national science competition Get Involved in Your Community for their work to raise awareness about the importance of water conservation in their community.  As part of Science Week, the school invited the National Geographic team to visit and learn about their project.

The Kilmeena school teamed up with the Kilmeena Group Water Scheme and Irish TV to meet a range of objectives to raise awareness about the importance of the long-term sustainability of their water source, a nearby lake. A big motivation for the project came from Sean Corrigan, manager of the Kilmeena, Ballycroy and Killeen Group Water Schemes in County Mayo, who said that he felt a duty to start a movement to give students the tools they need to create a sustainable environment for their future, “a future where we value water and use it to our advantage and cherish it.”

The school incorporated freshwater into its curriculum, educating the students on topics ranging from where freshwater comes from to the importance of conservation and sustainability. In turn the students are now educating the community on “how water gets to your tap,” increasing knowledge of watershed protection.

“It really is amazing to see how the students are educating their families and neighbors on water,” said the school’s principal, Mickey Carney. “Many of these students have watched water meters being installed in their own homes and now monitor their family’s water usage and compare with their friends in school the next day.”

After learning how little was actually known in the community about water, the students devised a number of vehicles to catch the attention of people to get their message across.

“If You Waste It, You Pay for It”


Some 160 students, from first through sixth grade, greeted our team chanting the motto, “if you waste it, you pay for it, every drop counts.”  As part of their outreach efforts, the students and a local TV company created a CSI documentary, in which the students take on the role of the crime investigators in a water waste crime. After narrowing the suspects down to Principal Carney, he promises to change his habits and stop wasting water.

This documentary was shown at an open night at the local town hall, where several hundred residents gathered to learn from the students and see their work.

The students also produced and distributed a futuristic newspaper dated 30 years from now to demonstrate the long-term benefits of the project. Sandra Postel sat down with the students to congratulate them for their hard work and to discuss the water hidden in things they use every day. Postel discussed the Change the Course campaign as a way that we in the United States are working to conserve water and invited the students and their families to participate by taking the free pledge to conserve and calculate their own water footprints using the National Geographic Freshwater Calculator.

“This is truly a special school initiative,” said Postel. “Students can help develop and spread the kind of conservation ethic we as a society need to solve our freshwater problems, as well as generating the compelling stories that are the trademark of National Geographic.”

National Geographic recognized the St. Brendan’s National School in Kilmeena for their work in freshwater conservation with a custom-made trophy.
National Geographic recognized the St. Brendan’s National School for their work in freshwater conservation with a custom-made trophy. Photograph by Martin McIntyre

The students plan to continue their water conservation efforts throughout the school year with more outreach to the local community.

“Water is in everything we use, not just in the faucet,” said a 6th grade student. “From my t-shirt to my desk, water is used to make everything”.

For more information on the project click here.



Meet the Author
Colby is a member of the National Geographic Mission Programs team. She works in outreach in the Explorer Programs, including the Genographic Project, the Big Cats Initiative, Pristine Seas and Change the Course. She received her BA from Hamilton College and her MBA from the Smith School of Business.