Schools are a place of education, but also of socialization; a place where new knowledge is garnered and new habits are formed. For development practitioners, schools are a natural and fruitful place to focus attention and resources. Up to half of the population in developing countries is comprised of school-aged children.1These children are the world’s future, and any agenda worth promoting will do well to begin in schools.
Disease and parasite infections continue to plague children throughout the developing world. Diarrhea, though not generally as deadly for schoolchildren as for those under the age of five, can still have very damaging effects. Diarrhea causes children to miss school, saps their energy, interferes with concentration, has great potential for embarrassment, and can cause or aggravate malnutrition. By underscoring the importance of and providing safe water, sanitation, and hand-washing facilities, as well as teaching about hygiene and disease transmission, WASH in Schools plays a crucial role in preventing diarrhea.
Also, although de-worming treatment can dramatically improve the health, it is only effective long-term if appropriate action is taken to control the source of infection. Therefore, to be effective, a WASH in Schools program must address the provision of hardware (i.e. construction of child-friendly water and sanitation facilities – e.g. drinking ports, latrines, sewer system, handwashing stations, etc.), as well as target behavior changes through intentional hygiene promotion and education.
According to UNICEF, among the criteria for a “Child-Friendly School”, is that it be healthy, with “safe water and adequate sanitation, with separate toilet facilities for girls.”2Where there is inadequate investment in WASH programming the effect on girls is more severe than on boys. Without easy access to reliable water sources, much of their time and labor is given to fetching water. In addition, girls often drop out of school all together when they reach a menstrual age if there are not safe and adequate sanitation facilities at school.
WASH in Schools is an intentional program for schools within a community. Lifewater’s goal is to work with our partners to create programs that offer the opportunity for children to learn and practice healthy behaviors in a disease-free environment. The programs seek to address WASH facilities such as access to safe drinking water, handwashing facilities, and sanitation and waste disposal facilities. WASH in Schools programs seek to promote hygiene by understanding children’s motivation and seek to implement hygiene education in a participatory process in order to address WASH needs in schools. Lifewater’s program encourages children to participate in a way that gives them ownership in the learning process, draws on their natural curiosity and creativity, and creates an environment of safety and mutual learning.
These transformational programs help cultivate behaviors that create a healthy learning environment for children.
WASH in Schools is important on two levels. First, on an immediate level, it improves the environment of the schools themselves and promotes effective learning for children. Secondly, WASH in Schools helps to increase the overall well-being and productivity of the community and society. Both boys and girls are able to take home their new knowledge and behavior, and promote healthy habits (even life-saving practices) along with environmental cleanliness in the home. “A schoolchild educated to the benefits of sanitation and good hygiene behavior is a conduit for carrying those messages far beyond the school walls, bringing lasting improvement not only to his or her health and wellbeing, but also to that of the family and the wider community.“3 Increasing literacy and education will allow children to begin to break out of the poverty cycle, bringing their families – both present and future – along with them.
Lifewater International’s WASH in Schools program integrates safe water, better health through hygiene education, and the promotion and construction of child-friendly sanitation facilities in schools and their surrounding communities. The goal is to provide full coverage of WASH services to the selected primary schools and everyone living in the surrounding communities.
Lifewater trains partners to assist in building the necessary WASH infrastructure in schools, and also trains them to work with teachers, administrators, and the community to support and sustain the effort to help the next generation.
Ten Building Blocks for Better Health: The Primary School WASH Curriculum
This participatory course teaches Lifewater’s primary school curriculum to partners and teachers. The curriculum promotes ten crucial health principles, including the human need for water, safe and unsafe water sources, diarrheal disease transmission, personal hygiene, protecting food and utensils, keeping school grounds sanitary, and using safe water to care for sick people. Participants learn the biblical mandate for good health and hygiene and grow in their appreciation for children as change makers in their communities.
This program is implemented by Lifewater’s volunteer field trainers and staff for the purpose of building the capacity of our national partners. For information on US-based training opportunities in this program area, see our U.S. Training page.