2019-05-08

Donations streaming in for clean water activist

by Gayle Wilson

Stella Bowles, the teen activist whose school science project helped kick off an inter-governmental program to get rid of fecal bacteria in the LaHave River, is starting to make a clean sweep of the digital donation highway.

Within a day of launching an online GoFundMe campaign to raise money to attend at two-week, college-level environmental studies camp in New York, she had raised $2,072 towards her goal of $5,000.

The Grade 9 student at Centre Scolaire de la Rive Sud says she was approached on Facebook by the Hobart and William Smith Colleges of Geneva and New York and asked if she would consider attending their Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute 2019 in July.

According to Bowles, most of the GoFundMe donations that have come in to allow her to participate in the program are from her Facebook followers, which number more than 4,000.

"It is so nice that people believe in me so much and want to help me get to this summer institute," Bowles told LighthouseNOW in an e-mail.

In reaching out to Bowles, the college group said its mission "is to provide talented high school students, such as yourself, with a college-level hands-on learning experience that explores the many disciplines, tools and approaches demanded by complex environmental problems.

"Our goal is to change you and your understanding of environmental issues, so you can change the world,'" they told her.

Bowles and her parents researched the program and were impressed and excited.

"I can actually earn a college credit and I haven't even started high school yet," she explained.

Bowles says her trip to Ecuador as a Canadian Youth Ambassador last year opened her eyes to travel and other cultures. Although she sees her future schooling in the area of environmental studies, she said she wants to travel more and learn as much as she can.

"This camp seems to cover all of my interests. I think it will be a good way to further learn about the environment and help me figure out what I actually want to do when I get to university."

Bowles sent out a letter to contacts asking for financial support a few weeks ago.

She noted that because of her efforts three levels of government have allocated $15.7 million dollars to address the problem of illegal straight pipes draining raw sewage from more than 600 homes along the river.

She pointed out as well that she's won numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada, the Action for Nature International Young Hero's Award from California and the Canada Walk of Fame Community Hero Award.

And her story is the subject of a book, My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River, written by Anne Laurel Carter and published last September by Formac.

"I've learned that kids do have the power to make change and I'm just getting started," Bowles wrote.

Bowles explained that the two-week camp is U.S. $3,600 plus airfare, and that the colleges have offered her a $1,000 scholarship to attend.

Describing the opportunity for her as "incredible," she said she really wants to go.

"I do think I'm a good investment."

However, it wasn't until her parents helped her launch the GoFundMe campaign on April 28 that the funds began to roll in.

One donation was for $1,207.

"I truly thought it was a mistake, and wrote to the person to say we could see about fixing it because the number was odd and large. The person wrote back to say it wasn't wrong and they wanted to send $1,000 U.S., which is $1,207 Canadian.

"I was shocked someone from the U.S. (or anywhere) would send me that amount of donation. They said they wanted to see me get to this camp. This act of kindness blew me away. I was speechless," Bowles said in her email.

She noted that the MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, Bernadette Jordan, also contributed.

"She has kept in contact and remained supportive of my interests and advocacy since I was 11 and started the river project," said Bowles.

The full tuition payment is due June 15.

Bowles says she's confident she will reach her goal and is "humbled" by the donations she's received so far.

"Our community and beyond has shown me amazing continued support, and I am really energized to continue advocating for a cleaner environment," said Bowles.

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