Almost 200 million days of school attendance are lost every year because of the lack of proper sanitation. Many diarrhea cases in children result from transmission of disease in schools rather than at home.
“A school is a place where children should feel safe, not a place where they are susceptible to infection,” says Lizette Burgers, senior adviser of UNICEF’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools program.
But the message at the World Water Summit on 4 June in São Paulo was positive: Rotary members and their clubs can make schools healthier places through programs that provide clean water and better sanitation.
“WASH in Schools is about addressing the rights of the children. This forum can help us all learn how to provide a healthy, safe, and secure school environment,” said Burgers. “This will help ensure quality education, because healthy, well-nourished children can fully participate in schooling. It increases school attendance, because students have to spend less time traveling long distances to fetch water. And it encourages children to take pride in their school and community by providing them with a renewed sense of dignity.”
The water summit, the seventh convened by the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group, focused on water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools and provided Rotary members with resources and tips for starting their own projects.
Sushil Gupta, The Rotary Foundation’s WASH in Schools committee chair, explained that these projects aren’t just about investing in infrastructure and improving sanitation facilities. A successful WASH in Schools project is also about advocacy. Rotary members were encouraged, when considering a new project, to focus on hygiene education by finding ways to develop healthy behaviors in youths. Gupta said that children are generally more receptive to new ideas than adults are, and they can more easily change their habits and improve practices within families and their communities.
“WASH in Schools is about revitalizing and bringing revolution in societies,” Gupta said. “These young children can become our agents of change, and help us reach our goal of a cleaner, better, and more educated world.”
At a breakout session, Greg Allgood, vice president of World Vision, a leading nongovernmental provider of clean drinking water in rural areas of the developing world, discussed how Rotary members can develop more sustainable and effective WASH in Schools projects by partnering with NGOs and the private sector. With the support of Rotary-collaborated projects, World Vision helped more than 845,000 children gain access to clean water through $85 million in project funding in 2013 alone.
Other breakout sessions focused on the basics of conducting a WASH in Schools program, the importance of changing behavior through hygiene education, and how to address sanitation needs in schools. Carlos Rossin, director of sustainability solutions for PricewaterhouseCoopers, also provided an update on São Paulo’s current drought and water resources issues.
“Rotarians are dedicating their time and leadership to address the need for basic WASH in Schools programs, and the results are already inspiring,” said John Hewko, general secretary of Rotary International. “These programs create a cycle of opportunity. It reduces hygiene-related disease, it increases attendance in school, it enhances the learning environment, and it contributes to a student’s dignity. This is an opportunity for Rotary to showcase what we’re all about. And through your work, we will be impacting generations to come.”