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Students protest for water access

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HIGH school students from the Pembina Trails School Division took what they learned inside the classroom and brought it to the streets of Winnipeg on Monday morning.

The 1,200 students filled up their water bottles and participated in the First Annual Water Walk campaign with all four high schools within the division. The students were raising awareness for aboriginal communities in northern Manitoba who lack clean water facilities. The rally was led by the schools' student executive committees of Free the Children -- an international charity that empowers youth to raise awareness regarding human rights issues.

"The people down south need to speak for the people up north. They don't have the resources to speak out like we do," said Mitch van Ineveld of Vincent Massey Collegiate.

The rally began with students cheering and waving banners outside Vincent Massey Collegiate on Dowker Avenue. The hype continued as students walked for eight kilometres down Pembina Highway to the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Shafagh Daneshfar, from Fort Richmond Collegiate, was one of the students who helped kick-start the demonstration back in January.

"This rally shows you that we have a voice by talking to the government. So many people are silent," said the student-president of Free the Children for Fort Richmond Collegiate. "This demonstrates the power of voice and the power of unity."

Students arrived at the legislative building at noon. They were greeted by members of the provincial government, including Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Eric Robinson.

"It hurts me to see our people who do not have running water in their homes," Robinson told the students. "We have a lot of work to do, but you have restored a sense of pride to the province and aboriginal people as well."

The schools' Free the Children committees spent the day asking fellow students to sign a petition for the Government of Canada to work with the Manitoba and First Nations to develop clean-water technologies within isolated communities up north.

Thousands of residents living in Manitoba's northern communities live without access to the clean drinking water and sanitation recognized by the United Nations as a human right.

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2013 B1

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