|Girl collecting water near Managua, Nicaragua.|
Not long ago, the people of Piedras Grandes, Nicaragua would trudge down to the river and lug its unsafe water back to their homes. The river was the only source of the village’s drinking water. As a result, water-borne illnesses affected many children and their families. Something had to be done.
The community came together in February 2002 and formed a Drinking Water and Sanitation Committee, representing 60 villagers from 15 households. The committee oversaw the installation of a well and, with UNICEF’s support, set out to bring clean water to the area by combining the wisdom of the elders with the enthusiasm and innovative spirit of the young.
María Dolores Ocón, 16, stepped forward with other adolescents, volunteering to be a health representative. As a result of their energy, enthusiasm and participation, the young people have become agents of change in improving the health and sanitary conditions of their community.
“As the health representative, I make door-to-door visits every two weeks to see that the households are keeping their backyards clean, using their latrines well, burning and burying their refuse and eliminating pools of water where mosquitoes might breed,” explains María.
Her 14-year-old assistant Liset Galliano chimes in, “We also check that receptacles containing water are covered to avoid contamination and that empty ones are cleaned out.”
"The blend of adults’ hard-earned knowledge and the children’s eagerness to learn has led to a dynamic partnership."
Piedras Grandes is just one of several communities in Chontales district which is encouraging young people’s participation in building wells and hygiene projects. UNICEF supports these efforts by working closely with local women, youth groups, community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations in designing and implementing water and sanitation efforts. It cannot afford to waste the community’s expertise - village residents are the experts in what services they need, can afford to build and are able to maintain.
The state water company, ENACAL, has made child participation key to its water and sanitation projects — not a bad idea in a country where 53 per cent of the 5.2 million population are under 18. It is not only important to include young people because they make up the majority, but also to help them hone their leadership skills for their roles as the future water managers.
The blend of adults’ hard-earned knowledge and the children’s eagerness to learn has led to a dynamic partnership. And it is really a two-way street – with adults sharing wisdom gained through experience and children contributing their formal education.
“Adolescent volunteers can help out because some of us don’t know how to read or write,” says Isabel Galliano, a committee coordinator.
It is just a year old, but the well in Piedras Grandes is already transforming people’s lives. Today, the villagers use clean water rather than river water and maintain hygienic conditions in their homes. The project has lead to a healthier village, where illnesses caused by unhygienic conditions no longer run through families. And with the active participation of the children, things are looking bright for the future.