Clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are crucial for children’s health and education

15 January 2021

It may come as a surprise, but many people in the world still lack access to basic necessities like clean water. Globally, only 69 percent of schools have clean water, and only 66 percent of them have adequate sanitation. Every year, due to diseases arising from unsafe drinking water and a lack of water and soap for handwashing, 443 million school days are lost and 2.2 million people die, 90 percent of whom are children.

Latter-day Saint Charities and one of our trusted partners, Splash, are helping to change this. Clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are crucial for children’s health and education. “Everything we do starts with safe water,” says Eric Stowe, Splash’s founder and executive director.

WASH in Schools

Schools are critical in implementing WASH infrastructures and practices, not only because this helps increase children’s health and school attendance but also because schools have a tremendous impact in the community as a whole. Even in the poorest of neighborhoods, schools are the hub for nearly all children and subsequently families and communities.

Children hygiene ambassadors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, teaching school peers proper handwashing techniques. Photo credit: SPLASH.

Project WISE

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and in Kolkata, India, Splash and Latter-day Saint Charities are currently equipping schools with easy-to-maintain water filtration systems, reliable water distribution infrastructures, effective handwashing stations, and secure bathrooms. This initiative is called Project WISE (WASH-in-Schools for Everyone). With Project WISE, the goal is to reach 1,600 schools and 1,000,000 children by the year 2023 and to demonstrate a scalable and durable WASH model in schools that can be replicated beyond these two cities. “The conditions on the grounds of these schools are terribly unsafe and they certainly aren’t fostering the ability for kids to go and actually have a safe education,” says Eric Stowe.

Sustainability

Long-term change requires not only the installation of equipment but changes in behavior so that people in the community will know how to use and maintain the equipment. Otherwise plumbing will become antiquated, filtration systems will break, and bathrooms will be overrun. Key to Latter-day Saint Charities’ mission is to engage in humanitarian projects that will increase personal responsibility, community support, self-reliance, and sustainability.

“Splash provides quality hygiene education for school children. Behavior change is crucial, and sustainability is the answer,” says Ivan Bakubi, program officer for clean water and food security at Latter-day Saint Charities.

School celebration event in Kolkata, India. Children hygiene ambassadors present to government and school representatives their diorama showing healthy practices for midday meal distribution. Photo credit: Shivam Pandey.

Latter-day Saint Charities champions a systems-change approach to provide communities with clean water and sanitation services that will last for generations. This type of approach allows for behavior change to be integrated in sustainable interventions. As we’ve moved away from one-off projects to strengthening water services, we recognize that schools and youth can act as a catalyst for broader behavior change within their communities.

Children Hygiene Ambassadors

Children in Addis Ababa and Kolkata are creating a brighter future for their schools and communities. Schools in both of these cities have created WASH clubs and positions like ministers of health to empower children to help make lasting changes in hygiene and health. “We are building the capacity of these kids to speak to their peers about handwashing and menstrual health,” says Megan Williams, Splash director of behavior change. “I have seen 10-year-old kids standing in front of thousands of children talking about how they can change their behaviors.”

Selamawit Mekbeb, right, member of her school’s WASH club in Addis Ababa. Photo credit: Boone Sommerfeld.

Take, for example, Selamawit Mekbeb. Selam is 14 years old, lives in Addis Ababa, and has been a part of her school’s WASH club for 2 years. She’s been instrumental in teaching her peers and the younger students about hygiene and proper handwashing through play, dance, and song. Her spark and message are contagious. “She made the whole household toilets and showers to be cleaned. She even posted hygiene messages in our house,” says her father. Selam hopes to be a doctor someday to help her people.

“I wish you could meet these young ministers of health. They are so amazing and dynamic,” says Eric Stowe. These children are the change makers and will be the key to clean water sustainability. “The most important thing for us to see is a healthy child,” says Ivan Bakubi. Clean water is instrumental in accomplishing this, and it will change the trajectory of these children’s lives.