|© UNICEF video|
|Schoolchildren in Madagascar wash their hands using water provided through a partnership between UNICEF, the Government of Madagascar, local communities and the country’s largest shrimp exporting company, UNIMA.|
By Misbah M. Sheikh
BEKOBAY, Madagascar, 12 December 2006 ─ It may seem like a strange partnership, but Madagascar’s largest shrimp exporting firm, UNIMA, as well as the Government of Madagascar, UNICEF and local communities have come together to build latrines where no one dared before.
In a bold strategy, the partners aim to break taboos that can hinder good hygiene practices and improved access to sanitation. The results of this strategy are already visible.
Georgette, 12, lives in Bekobay and goes to school not far from her home. Until 2005, her school didn’t have a toilet or a drinking fountain.
“I never used to drink water during the day,” says Georgette, “because of the fear that I did not have a place to pee. And those girls who got their periods, well they just never came to school. But now things are different.”
Georgette’s mother agrees. “I thought my daughter was just talking nonsense when she told me how to conserve water and wash my hands,” she recalls. “But once I opened my ears and listened to her, well, she actually made sense. Since we adopted Georgette’s hygiene rules in the house, she doesn’t get diarrhoea as often and is able to spend more time at school.”
|© UNICEF Madagascar/2006/Rey|
|Hygiene education and the availability of safe water sources in schools reduce the number of school days lost as a result of diarrhoea.|
Young people as ‘agents of change’
“We want to change the way people think of hygiene,” explains UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Bruno Maes. “We want to ensure that no school days are lost to diarrhoea and we want to promote the participation of young people. They are the agents of change in their communities. But they can’t ensure that change if we don’t help them by building latrines and water points. This is why we need companies like UNIMA to help us in this battle.”
UNIMA President Aziz Ismail adds: “We were quite amazed to learn that rates of access to water and sanitation in our country are among the poorest in the world. This is why UNIMA has joined hands with UNICEF.
“Corporate social responsibility is at the core of our business paradigm and we would like to play a constructive role in promoting better health in the communities that we serve and fostering the development of our country.”
With the help of companies like UNIMA, UNICEF is working with the government to ensure that 120 new schools are equipped with water and sanitation facilities each year. It’s an important step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of improving access to safe water and sanitation.