Lakeside students say goodbye to waterborne illnesses

Safe water makes a difference

By James Chavula
A learner at Nankhwali Primary School smiles as he opens a tap to drink safe and clean water
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Chagara
15 January 2021

For Shamira Malidadi, a school is not complete without access to safe water.

The 11-year-old, from Kazembe II village in Malindi, is in Standard Seven at St Martin’s Primary School.

The school and neighbouring communities were recently provided with a solar-powered water supply system with support from the German National Committee for UNICEF.

The system has provided communities protection from diseases caused by germs that hide in the lake. These include bilharzia-causing worms or flukes, which harbour in snail shells in stagnant water. They enter the bloodstream and attack the intestines, lungs and urinary and nervous systems.

“My school is close to the lake but lacked safe water until 2018, when we got the solar-powered water supply system. Before that we were drinking untreated lake water, so many children were missing classes due to illness; diarrhoea and bilharzia were common in this area,” Shamira explained.

She says absenteeism rates have dramatically dropped as the water is treated with chlorine to kill germs.

Several members of the community find it ironic that they were thirsting for clean water while living in close proximity to a freshwater lake.

For Shamira, the new system illustrates how science transforms communities left behind.

“I love science and mathematics. I want to become a doctor and save people from preventable deaths, including those caused by lack of safe water, which were common here,” she explained. “When a school has no water, students and teachers waste time fetching clean water instead of teaching and learning. Children are frequently bedridden due to preventable diseases instead of going to school.”

With three taps providing clean water on the school premises, students and teachers now have easy access to handwashing facilities and are able to practice COVID-19 measures, as well as wash cups and plates for school meals.


Shamira walking out from the latrine
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Chagara

Planting for the future

In April 2019, teachers and parents planted fruit trees at the primary school, but only a tenth survived.

Pilirani Kalokwete, a teacher who coordinates Living School activities, hopes the trees that they will plant will help with blocking winds as well as enhancing students’ nutrition. However, he says, the seedlings arrived after the rainy season and lacked maintenance due to the sudden closure of schools in March to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have told students to bring the seeds of fruits they eat so we can replace the trees that did not survive and make bare grounds green. Our school requires windbreakers. We do not want to lose another classroom to hailstorms,” he says.