A clean school in a clean village

In the region of Mopti, schools with latrines and water points have changed the lives of children - and of parents too!

By Tijs Magagi Hoornaert
Portrait of Djouldé Napo, 14, grade 9 student and president of the hygiene club at the Wédié school. Village of Wédié in the municipality of Pélou, Cercle de Bandiagara, Mopti region, October 2018.
23 October 2018

Before the emergency that broke out in northern Mali in 2012, the region of Mopti was a magnet for tourists, with its cliffs, its landscapes and above all, the legendary hospitality of its inhabitants. Since 2012, however, many villages in the region have been cut off, tourism has stopped, and growing insecurity has hindered local development.

With the support of UNICEF France, UNICEF Mali has been implementing a program to improve the quality of life for children and communities in central and northern Mali through its water, hygiene and sanitation projects in schools and villages.

" Now that the hygiene club has been set up and there are clean water points, children are more motivated to come to school."

Djoulde Napo and her friends from the hygiene club in front of her school's latrines.

Hygiene clubs in schools are one of the components of the program. In Wédié, a village in Bandiagara, 14-year-old Djoulde Napo is the chairperson of her school's very first hygiene club. Every Friday, she chairs a meeting of the club: 12 boys and girls whose role is to promote awareness among other young people and their families about the advantages and importance of good hygiene.

The change has been tremendous, she says with satisfaction. 

"Before the hygiene club, the village really wasn't clean," Djoulde admits.

Djoulde Napo and her friends at the water point installed by UNICEF.
UNICEF Mali/2018/Keita

"People would defecate outside in the open and that was causing problems. Especially among children - poor sanitation led to a lot of sickness. We didn't realize that those two things were related."

With the support of the NGO Groupe d'Animation Action Sahel au Mali (GAAS-Mali), based in Bandiagara, and thanks to hygiene clubs, the community has gradually become used to a new way of life. To ensure long-term impact, four teachers have been trained by the program. They are progressively incorporating hygiene lessons into their curriculum and have been overseeing the hygiene club.

"What children learn in school, they apply at home," explains Amadou Tembine, the principal of the Wédié school and a hygiene teacher as well. "And that ensures the message gets through to the parents."

"At home, my family is following my advice on hygiene," Djoulde says. "Thanks to our hygiene lessons, I’ve been able to convince everyone in my family to wash their hands well before they prepare meals or eat, and to wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet - keeping clean at all times.”

But for lessons on the importance of good hygiene to have a significant impact, water and sanitation infrastructure in schools and villages needs to be improved at the same time.

“The money spent on the latrines and water points amounts to a lot less than what sickness and disease used to cost people.”

In rural Mali, only 38% of schools are equipped with clean water. Thanks to the project, the Wédié school now has a new water point, as well as separate latrines for boys and girls. Before, not having enough latrines had an impact on keeping children - especially girls - in school.

"We girls were embarrassed when we needed to go to the toilet," Djoulde recalls. "Luckily, today there are separate latrines for boys and girls!”

"Now that the hygiene club has been set up and there are water points, children are more motivated to come to school,” Amadou Tembine, the school principal, confirms.

  Djoulde Napo washing her hands at her school's water point.
UNICEF Mali/2018/Keita

Before the project started, there were only 4 latrines in the village for a population of 1199 people. Today, the village is successfully implementing Community-Led Total Sanitation and there are now 106 latrines built by members of the community themselves, with the support of GAAS-Mali.

"We monitor the village daily," explains Djouma Coulibaly, a GAAS-Mali facilitator. "We are very strict. Every latrine must have facilities for hand-washing, and soap or ash must be provided.”

In addition to improving hygiene and reducing illness among children, the project has also had an impact on household spending power. Djoulde agrees: "The neighbors tell me that they are getting back the money they used to have to spend on healthcare. They’re saving money and their children are no longer sick."

The hygiene club is much appreciated in the village, even by the village chief.

"Our village is a little isolated, but very clean just the same. The work the young people in the hygiene club are doing is very important," says Baïsso Biniba Djiguiba, the village chief.

Djoulde and her friends from the hygiene club talk with village chief Baïsso Biniba Djiguiba.
UNICEF Mali/2018/Keita

Despite now having 106 latrines, the village has not yet achieved Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. To be certified, every compound has to have a latrine. Djouma Coulibaly is confident: “We're going to get there. With the support of UNICEF and our awareness-raising activities, Wédié will get its ODF certificate.”

The school in Wédié has become a model of success in the region. It received a hygiene kit after finishing third in a competition organized by UNICEF and GAAS-Mali for the 35 schools participating in the program.

The nearest market is in Bandiagara, 18 km away from Wédié, and the road connecting the two villages is in poor condition. Fortunately for Djoulde and her club, there are two shopkeepers from their village who go to the market in Bandiagara every Friday and bring back all the supplies they need to keep their village clean.

“For me, good hygiene is very simple: keeping clean at all times and avoiding disease.”

Djoulde Napo in her classroom.
UNICEF Mali/2018/Keita

"Thanks to the hygiene club, my family, my friends and I have learned a lot about good hygiene. Gradually, we’re managing to modify people's behavior, develop our village and protect our children," Djoulde says.

“For me, good hygiene is very simple: keeping clean at all times and avoiding disease.”

The village of Wédié is one of the villages participating in the "Support for Rehabilitation in Northern Mali through WASH in Schools” project, implemented since 2017 with the support of UNICEF France in collaboration with UNICEF Spain, Sweden and Denmark.