Clean water and sanitation are a worldwide problem that impacts millions around the globe. The figures are startling and unimaginable. Per WHO/UNICEF estimates, 783 million people (11% of the world’s population) in the world do not have access to safe water. 2.5 billion people (35% of world’s population) in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. Tragically, around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation – that’s almost 2,000 children a day.
WaterAid is one of the world leaders in providing clean water and sanitation throughout the developing world. I have been honored to see their work on the ground during a May trip to India and have been sharing stories about their amazing work around the globe on my blog. Earlier this summer, I shared a story about the work WaterAid is doing in Madagascar to provide toilets and taps to school children.
Over the summer, WaterAid has worked to to reach 12,000 children in 31 schools by providing 150 taps and 100 toilets in Madagascar. Ernest Randriarimalala a field officer with WaterAid visited one of the projects in mid-July and I’m honored to share his update of the progress that has been made on the ground below.
Per Randriarimalala, “A key element of the photos here is about the hopes, dreams and potential for the future of the children in this primary school in Tsimahavaobe village. Some photos show children drawing and presenting their drawing of what they want to be when they grow up“. I hope you find this report inspiring of the the good we can do by giving people the simple luxury of safe water and sanitation.
On the Ground in Madagascar by Ernest Randriarimalala
All photos credited to Ernest Randriarimalala/WaterAid.
Tsimahavaobe primary school is located in the growing and very poor coastal town of Morondava, Menabe region of Madagascar. Most pupils come from extremely poor families, who farm or cut thatching for a living. The schools resources are incredibly stretched. There is no supply of safe water, no toilets and nowhere for pupils to wash their hands.
With no toilets at the school, pupils have no choice but to go in the open. This creates a number of problems. First, there is no privacy, causing particular problems as the children grow older and especially unsafe for girls. Teachers are forced to wait until the end of the day or find a neighbour willing to share their facilities. Second, the children are forced to take care of their bodily needs in an area right behind the classrooms where mango trees grow. This makes the environment around the school extremely dirty and a hotbed for spreading disease. During mango season, children pick up fallen mangos from the same area of dirty ground to eat causing further sickness, and more absenteeism. Lastly, lack of proper sanitation causes the nearby streams to become contaminated further spreading disease and illnesses and effecting children’s ability to go to school and learn.
My recent visit to Morondava and especially Tsimahavaobe village was totally different to my previous visits. This time, as the children were on holiday, I decided to meet some of them and their parents at their homes. This allowed me to understand a little more about their daily lives; what are the things they usually do at home before going to school, what do they eat, what problems do they have to face every day and what do their parents think about the construction happening in their school.
I was a bit surprised by their hospitality and simplicity. They welcomed me very well and some of them offered tea or coffee before we talked. Even though I am used to visiting communities, I was a bit shocked and sad to see their living conditions. Some of them only have a cooking pot and a bed and I noticed that the bed is only for parents and kids have to lie on the ground. I also noticed that the kids really love school and studying. But they have to do the domestic work such as washing dishes, washing clothes, fetching water, preparing food and helping their parents before going to school. Some of the kid’s parents are coffee and tea makers/sellers. Some of them are rickshaw pullers or tobacco sellers. They almost all have the same hopes – they want their kids to be more successful than them in life. They want their kids to be well educated, not illiterate like them. They also told me that the fact they don’t have safe water and latrines has already held some pupils back because they got sick and had to miss school. So now, they are all really happy with the sanitation project at school as it is going to make the life of their kids better and will help them to be healthier and focused on their studies.
My first day, Tuesday 16 July, coincided with the day of the school exam. Pupils in class five (the last year in primary school) had their first official exam, the CEPE or Certificate of Primary Studies. I arrived in Morondava and I decided to join the parents who had been waiting for their kids from the early morning. They were there to support their kids and to bring them food for lunch. The Tsimahavaobe primary school kids had to take the exam in another public school in Tsimahavaokely. The parents said that this exam is really important for them because receiving this first diploma is an important basic step in school in Madagascar. Most of the parents had decided to stop working for two days to support their kids.
When the kids got back from the exam, I went with their parents to meet them. Their first gestures were to cuddle their kids and ask, “How was it?” Meeting these kids and sharing their photos was a happy moment because for some this was first time in their lives they had their own photos.
On my second day I decided to get to the school early to check how things were going with the construction. When I got there I was surprised because at 7am, even though the pupils were on their summer holidays, those who live around the school were already there. They were so excited about the changes taking place at their school that they just couldn’t stay away. They preferred to stay and play in the schoolyard to see the construction and its day to day changes.
I walked around the school and noticed that they had already cleaned and cleared the open defecation area behind the school building and it is now a very nice, shady place to play. I had seen what it was like before so I could imagine the hard work that they had undertaken.
When I chatted with some of the kids, teachers and parents, it became obvious that the community, parents and pupils had really bought into and owned the project. They told me that it is a really big change in their school and village so they are motivated to help with the process. They told me that they participated by digging the pit, fetching water and sand, and giving the technicians and masons somewhere to stay.
With this project, it is not only the pupils that are excited – it is also the teachers. I had an opportunity to meet them and they told me that it was easier for kids to defecate in the open but for them as teachers every day was an ordeal. They had to go far away from the school to do it because as a teacher it is not good to be seen by pupils like this. They are really proud now as they said they will be more respected by the kids and the community. They believe that having safe water and good sanitation will also motivate and push parents to get their kids into school. I think this is true because some of the kids I met in the village are not going to school. When I asked them why, they told me that before our work in the community, the school was not considered a proper school as it didn’t even have a toilet and, because they were scared of snakes, they prefer to stay at home with their parents.
My last observation during my field visit is about the collaboration and challenges that we faced in implementing this project. I noticed that the community is really involved in this project. In the beginning, I had heard there some big challenges which included finding common ground between the parents, the school and the school district regarding the best place to install the infrastructure and dealing with the security of the materials during the night. Now the building phase of the sanitation block and all of the planned activities in the school are well underway. Furthermore, the stakeholders, such as the community and the school district, are thinking of the best way to secure materials and ensure the project is sustainable.
Teacher Aimee Adeline, Director of the Primary school in Tsimahavaobe shared with me her thoughts and dreams for the children who she loves dearly and has worked so hard to inspire.
I would love to see that all students succeed in their study so they can follow their dreams. I want them to be a doctor, a civil servant, working in a bank, I really want them to be just someone not anyone.
I am used to working hard for those kids. I often remind my coworkers to do their best for the children, and they really do, but unfortunately our school is not able to offer a healthy environment for our pupils development. They cannot focus totally on their studies as they are all the time thirsty, they drink unsafe water. We are not healthy at all as we don’t even have latrines. Not having safe water and latrines could hold them back , as they can be sick and can miss school. In this region of Madagascar, children often miss school, then they totally give up.
Fortunately due to the help from WaterAid and the tremendous support of the community, the children of Primary school in Tsimahavaobe now have their toilets, a luxury that many of us around the world take for granted. These children can go to school, can be healthy and most important of all, they can learn. They have a future now and they will succeed.
To learn more about WaterAid, click here.