|© UNICEF Mexico/2006/Chevigny|
|Representing Kenya, Priscila, 12 (right), and her friend Charlotte, 14, are attending the Children’s World Water Forum in Mexico City.|
By Blue Chevigny
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 20 March 2006 – Yesterday, a delegation of African children attended the 4th World Water Forum, where adult decision-makers are meeting to raise awareness about global water issues. The young people have been participating in the Children’s World Water Forum, which is also being held here this week. They were determined to draw attention to their concerns as young people about water, sanitation and hygiene on their continent.
The 10 youth delegates from Togo, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria wore colourful traditional garb from their countries and waved their nations’ flags. They performed a song about water, and then each child made a brief, one-line statement about why clean water is vital to his or her life.
Later, 12-year-old Priscila Wanjiru Karanja of Kenya shared her experiences in greater detail, describing the everyday impact of clean water on the lives of children in Africa. Priscila is active in a UNICEF-supported school sanitation and hygiene programme known as WASH (for water, sanitation and hygiene).
Outreach to children and adults
“There are several problems that inspired me to join the water, sanitation and hygiene education for schools movement,” said Priscila. “It inspired me because it directly addresses the problem that we face.”
Priscila explained that her school is located in an industrial, highly populated slum area where poverty, environmental hazards, contaminated water and inadequate sanitation systems pose particular dangers to children. “Our school is insecure because we lack a perimeter wall and our facilities get damaged,” she said. “Most of the pupils are HlV/AIDS orphans, and a majority come from poor families and need support to be able to remain in school, and also live healthily.”
|© UNICEF Mexico/2006/Chevigny|
|African youth delegates perform and present concerns to decision-makers at the 4th World Water Forum.|
Solving these problems has been a challenge, said Priscila, “though we have tried several things like installing more toilet units for boys and girls” – a key to improving school attendance rates. “With support from UNICEF Kenya, the school has been able to acquire three tanks, hence increasing our water supply. We have been involved in litter collection, making the school environment more clean and attractive.”
Priscila continued: “We try to involve adults such as parents, school administrators and the larger community to increase the effectiveness of our activity. To meet most of the goals, we have been reaching out to other children in activities like painting of the walls and ensuring the toilets are clean.”
Additional funding needed
Improved water and sanitation systems, as well as hygiene education efforts, are making a difference in her school, Priscila noted.
“Our school has access to clean toilets for the children, so the danger of contracting diseases has been decreased,” she said. “Awareness has been created among children and teachers. They have learned about taking care of themselves and going out to spread the gospel to other children about cleanliness.”
Community participation is another critical factor. “The parents have been invited for some workshops, because we still feel that some parents have not been reached,” said Priscila. “Through the WASH programme, pupils have become responsible for their facilities within the school and their homes. To crown it all, I must say that WASH has brought a very big change to the pupils, the teachers and the community.”
But Priscila worries that available funding for the programme is not sufficient to meet the needs of children at risk in her community. “We want to be able to talk to other schools, churches, colleges and universities about this project,” she said. “We would like to organize seminars for people to be able to understand it properly and positively. So we need funds from the other NGOs to assist us.”
Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.
Children’s World Water Forum: Calling for change [with video]