For the love of water

In Vanuatu, UNICEF supports the WASH in Schools programme

Rebecca Olul
Carol and her younger sister, Jenny, ready to go to school
UNICEFPacific/2022/Olul
03 April 2022

Willie Bule, 55, casts his eyes to the ground as he talks about his granddaughters. 10-year-old Carol Ragko is four years older than her younger sister, Jenny Ragko.

“I always make sure that the water is clean,” he says. “This is not just for the school and the health centre, but also for my community,” he adds.

Willie is responsible for maintaining the water system that supplies the Ranmawot Primary School, the school where his grandchildren attend, as well as the health centre and their community with water.

“Clean water means that my granddaughters can have water to wash their clothes, have clean drinking water to take to school, and wash their hands before they eat,” he says. “It’s important for their health.”

Willie picks up his machete, sharpens it with his file, dons his hat and is off with his wife, Sally Bule, for the walk uphill to check on the school’s water source. He is a bit worried: There has been so much rainfall over the last couple of weeks.

Willie Bule, 55yo, has the important task of taking care of the school, health centre and community water supply, cleaning out the spring box after lot of heavy rain.   
Willie Bule has the important task of taking care of the school, health centre and community water supply, cleaning out the spring box after lot of heavy rain. 

He turns right at his gate, the opposite direction to the one taken by Jenny and Carol, as they meander downhill to school. While the girls walk only 15 minutes to get to the school, for Willie it is a 45-minute trudge uphill, across several streams, through taro gardens and past freshwater fish farms.

Getting to the water source, Willie looks around, opens the lid of the spring box and peers in. It needs a cleanout. He does what needs to be done, nods and puts everything back in. Satisfied, he finally trudges down the hill again with Sally.

Willie and Sally are just in time to have some lunch and meet Jenny and Carol who have returned from school. It is clear when Willie speaks of his grandchildren that he is a doting grandfather. His granddaughters understand the value of water and are excited to talk about their day.

Jenny recites what is clearly a favourite poem about water, that she learnt in her class that day.

Yumi wash long wota

Yumi dring wota

Wota hemi gud tumas

6-year-old Jenny Ragko, first grader at Ranmawot Primary School, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in her classroom with her friends learning about water and all its uses including that people and fish cannot live without water.
6-year-old Jenny Ragko, first grader at Ranmawot Primary School, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in her classroom with her friends learning about water and all its uses including that people and fish cannot live without water.

“Fish need water to live,” says 6-year-old first-grader, Jenny. “I coloured my fish orange and made a green river for the fish to live in.”

“Water is special to me,” says Carol. “We use water to wash our hands, to cook our food, and to drink.” She also talks about how important it is to wash hands after using the toilet.

10-yo Carol washing her hands outside her classroom before going into her classroom.
10-year-old Carol washing her hands outside her classroom before going into her classroom.

“When I finish using the toilet at school there is a bucket outside where I wash my hands, lather on some soap, rub and scrub then wash my hands to get rid of germs.”

Through the support provided from the Vanuatu Department of Water Resources, the communities around the school now have access to running water as part of the Tropical Cyclone Harold response programme.

This has enabled the handwashing habits children are picking up in school through the WASH in Schools Programme to continue into the home and community.

The WASH in Schools Programme is a pilot led by the Vanuatu Ministry of Education & Training on Penama Province with the support of UNICEF and funding from the Government of New Zealand.