In a room of 300 sixth-graders, Walnut Springs Middle School Principal Leslie Kelly asked 60 students to stand up.

In a room of 300 sixth-graders, Walnut Springs Middle School Principal Leslie Kelly asked 60 students to stand up.

That is how many of them -- one in five -- who would have died before kindergarten if they lived in South Sudan.

As a service project, Walnut Springs is challenging its students for the third year in a row to change that statistic by helping to raise money for the Buckeye Clinic, a medical facility for children and mothers in the South Sudan village of Piol.

The clinic was created by Jok Dau and Bol Aweng, who fled Piol when it was attacked in 1987 during civil war. They traveled 1,500 miles to Ethiopia, becoming known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. They spent 14 years in African refugee camps before coming to the United States in 2001.

They attended Ohio State University together and, after returning to their village 2007, they began raising money to create what would be the Buckeye Clinic.

Aweng visited Walnut Springs Monday, May 6, to share his story with students and help them kick off their fundraising.

Each grade level will compete through a "Battle of the Buckets" to see who can raise the most money for the clinic. The school's English-as-a-second-language classroom, which is spearheading the project, also will hold a bake sale to raise money.

The school raised more than $400 for the project last year, said teacher Kim Mason, sponsoring the printing of Maluak's Cows, a book that Aweng illustrated. Sales of the book go toward the clinic.

This year, the school hopes to raise $1,000 for the Buckeye Clinic, and it's well on its way with a $200 donation from the Lions Club and a promise from Rotary to match up to $250 worth of fundraising by students, Mason said.

Kelly said the service project helps to get students thinking about the impact they can have on people globally.

"We always want them to think locally about how they can help their community," Kelly said. "We also want them to think globally."

Aweng's story is poignant for the students because they can relate to the story of a child who fled his home without his parents and faced hunger and danger, Kelly said. Aweng was 6 when he fled his home.

"A kid can really take that and think about it from their perspective," Kelly said.

In recognition of the fundraising the school has done in the last three years, a plaque has been hung in the clinic, Kelly said.

"Every time someone goes in (the clinic), a there's a piece of (Walnut Springs) in there," she said.

Aweng said central Ohio has stepped up to support the Buckeye Clinic, and schools such as Walnut Springs can have a significant impact because students take up the cause and spread awareness to their parents, community groups and friends.

"These kids can help spread the word more than you can expect," Aweng said. "Many people from Columbus are now raising their hands saying they see what's happening (in South Sudan)."

More information on the Buckeye Clinic can be found at