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Clean water and adequate sanitation keeping children in school

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2004
The children of Gewane Primary School now have cool, clean water to drink from newly-installed taps.
GEWANE, Ethiopia, 16 November 2004 - The mid-morning bell sounds, releasing a group of cheerful Gewane Primary School students; most of them go directly to water taps for a drink. The taps are new – they were installed this summer as part of a joint World Vision - UNICEF water and sanitation project.

Gewane Primary School is one of 12 schools in the Afar region of the country which have begun to benefit from the project. In addition to taps for safe drinking water, other improvements installed include hand-washing facilities and separate latrines for boys and girls.

In Afar, safe drinking water is only available to 17 per cent of the population at best – or even less, if functionality problems with water supply systems are taken into account. Sanitation coverage is lower still, at less than 7 per cent. The Afar region is one of the hottest places on the planet, with temperatures often in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2004
Ten-year-old second grader Humayso Abdo Hassen is one of the members of the recently formed Gewane Primary School Sanitation Club.
Gathered around the water taps, the children feel fortunate to have cool, clean water to drink on such a hot day. Ten-year-old second grader Humayso Abdo Hassen is one of the members of the recently formed Gewane Primary School Sanitation Club. Today Humayso and three of his club mates are on duty, standing attentively next to the taps.

“No pushing! Stand in line. You will each get your turn,” Humayso shouts. It takes a few minutes, but soon the four team members have the thirsty students lined up single file behind each tap. “Wash your hands first,” Humayso tells each student, pointing to a hand-washing poster produced by UNICEF as part of its sanitation advocacy. Under a photograph of an Afar girl washing her hands, bold lettering states: ‘Your health is in your hands. Always wash them’.

After washing, the children cup their hands under the gentle flow of water and drink. “Most students don’t bring cups to school and sometimes the children put their mouths around the tap head when drinking. If I see a student doing that, I tell them to stop, because if they are sick, they can pass their illness onto others,” says Humayso, adding, “I was very happy to see this tap when I returned to school after our summer holidays. In the past we had to bring our drinking water from home. In this heat, one bottle was never enough.”

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2004
Twelve-year-old fourth grader Hassina Mohammed. Having separate latrines for girls improves the learning environment at school.
Hassina Mohammed is a 12-year-old fourth grader and is also a member of the sanitation club. Today, she is on toilet monitor duty with three other students. “Last year, we only had one block of toilets, which were shared by all students. Boys are messy and don’t keep the toilets clean, which makes it uncomfortable for us girls. Having this new toilet block just for us girls is making a big difference in our school life,” explains Hassina.

In 2002, only 13 per cent of school aged boys and girls in Afar region attended primary school, with girls’ enrolment far below that of boys. A school’s learning environment is more positive for girls when separate latrines for boys and girls are provided. The provision of separate latrines is thus an important component of the strategy for increasing girls’ enrolment at schools.

“We have learned a lot about how to keep ourselves healthy by doing simple things like washing our hands after using the toilet. I want to be a doctor when I grow up, because I want to heal people. Through this club I can start healing people from today,” says Hassina.



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