In Nigeria, the road to the Millennium Development Goals is a holistic journey. Whether working towards reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and guinea worm, or ensuring environmental stability, the water and sanitation sector is a key ingredient. This is most evident in UNICEF’s efforts to promote girls’ education.
By providing schools with safe water, separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls, and hygienic environments, UNICEF-supported local initiatives are attracting and keeping girls in the classroom. When schools are conducive to girls’ participation, they are “child-friendly” – attractive to all students.
UNICEF has implemented a Child-Friendly Schools Initiative in 153 primary schools, serving more than 150,000 children. Efforts to change the classroom environment have included training teachers in life-skills education, involving parents, encouraging village artisans to participate in hygiene and sanitation projects and forming children’s hygiene and child rights clubs. The result has been a 20 per cent increase in school enrolment. An additional by-product has been a 77 per cent decrease in dracunculiasis (guinea worm).
Bashibo, a village of about 2,000 people, is a stellar example of how UNICEF and the local government have teamed up to promote safe water, clean and separate sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion in schools - with far-reaching results. The project, begun in June 1999, became a community-wide endeavour, including the parent-teacher association and the students themselves. One borehole equipped with a hand pump and separate pit latrines for boys and girls were constructed. Although the water and sanitation facilities are part of the school, they also serve the surrounding villages.
"UNICEF assessed the effectiveness of the Bashibo school programme – the results were impressive."
The school initiated the Environmental Health Club, where students promote good hygiene in both the school and the community, and advocate for secure household water supplies to continue hygienic behaviour at home. With the help of a teacher, the 12 girls and 18 boys who make up the club operate and maintain the facilities and keep track of the borehole’s usage. The club funds its activities by selling plastic buckets and clay pots fitted with taps.
Building on its success, the Bashibo school has added a nutrition component, the State Primary School Agricultural Revival Programme. It helps the children, their teachers and other community members develop farm projects, boosting food production, providing food supplements for schoolchildren and encouraging healthy diets. The school’s vegetable garden is irrigated by runoff from the borehole.
UNICEF assessed the effectiveness of the Bashibo school programme with structured questionnaires, group discussion and inspection of the facilities. The results were impressive. Two years after the project’s inception, both the borehole and the latrines were working and being used. Hand washing among children increased by 95 per cent and 90 per cent reported that they brushed their teeth and bathed regularly. Teachers reported that students came to school clean and had fewer cases of ringworm and other skin diseases. In addition, school attendance grew steadily each year from 320 pupils when the programme was initiated to 538 in 2001.
By joining water and sanitation with the health, nutrition and education sectors, the Bashibo school project has not only brought more girls into the classroom but also has improved the health and nutritional status of the entire community.