How a young Tajik ecologist conducted analysis on WASH in kindergartens of her hometown

A girl from Khorog launched an environmental project that partially solved hygiene problems in kindergartens and drew the attention of local authorities to this important issue.

jamshed Husainov
Shahnoza and her friends
UNICEF Tajikistan/2021/ K. Karamaliev
17 January 2022

Seventeen-year-old Shakhnoza had a genuine interest in environmental issues from an early age. As a 7th grade student, she was inspired and determined to do whatever she could to protect the environment. Last year she took part in the UNICEF-funded ‘Adolescents - Partners in Sustainable Development’ project, in which she was able to unleash her potential.

During this project, young people and local authorities learned to interact and trust each other - importantly, this involves the participation of young people in decision-making processes. It was from this project that the full cooperation between young people and local authorities began. Young people have a lot of great ideas, but there is often no way to implement them. ‘Adolescents - Partners in Sustainable Development’ gives young people the opportunity to not only create their own project, but also to implement it together with the local authorities.

“When my friends and I were invited to take part in this project, I was in the 11th grade and was more worried about myself and my progress, as I wanted to enter a good university. But after the first training I realized how many other, and no less important, problems exist, and this changed me. I began to focus on the problems of my community,” explains Shakhnoza.

"...after the first training I realized how many other, and no less important, problems exist, and this changed me. I began to focus on the problems of my community..."

At the beginning of the project, the participants proposed a list of all existing problems in their region and divided them into several subgroups. Among all the topics voiced by Shakhnoza, the most acute was the issue of safe sanitation and hygiene - an issue that worries many Tajiks, because according to the World Bank report, only 38% of the republic's population have access to clean drinking water.

Shakhnoza and her friends decided to create a project that would improve the sanitary conditions in their city.

“We had a long discussion over who our target group would be, so we decided to conduct an analysis. Sulaimonsho, Dilangez and I visited the infectious diseases hospital. We spoke with the doctor and she gave us some shocking facts - in 2020 and in the first four months of 2021 - 894 people were hospitalized with a severe infection rate, most of them were children, especially those who go to kindergarten or primary school ...Therefore, we decided to opt for the children from kindergartens, partly because it is much easier for them to instill hygiene skills than it is for adults, who are already established in their ways,” explains Shakhnoza.

During the event, the coaches taught Shakhnoza and other children to not only find problems, but also to analyze and solve them . These are very important skills for a modern person. By teaching a certain group of children, UNICEF spreads this knowledge more widely, because each of them has at least 10 acquaintances; at this rate, information is being disseminated.

Having gained the knowledge, the young people still needed approval from the local authorities. Will the local authorities allow research and educational training in kindergartens?

Thanks to UNICEF and the Program for Supporting the Development of Societies in Mountainous Regions (PPROGR), negotiations were organized between the young people and higher government agencies. These negotiations were not only successful, but also attracted a very important partner - the municipality.

During their project, the young people observed what difficulties kindergartens face. Some of them lacked basic sanitary and hygienic standards, such as clean toilets and safe drinking water.

“In one of the kindergartens, when we went to the restroom, we simply could not use it. The room was very cold, there was no heating, and the toilets were too big, not only for children but also for adults. In other kindergartens the situation was a little better, but there were restrictions; for example, water is only provided until 11 o'clock in the morning,” says Shakhnoza.

"The room was very cold, there was no heating, and the toilets were too big, not only for children but also for adults..."

As a result, the young people came to the conclusion that in order to meet the project budget and provide material assistance, it was necessary to prioritize the three institutions that needed support the most. The young people bought soap, towels and other hygiene products for the children and taught them how to use them correctly.

According to Shakhnoza, waste management is another problem  in the city. She says that it is not only children who litter, but also adults; if an adult sees a child litter the adult will not even comment to the child, as if it is a normal thing. Shakhnoza says that maybe some people think that the streets should be dirty so that there is a desire to enter the house as soon as possible, but for most people the feeling of garbage in the streets is very uncomfortable.

All this made Shakhnoza take environmental issues seriously and helped her choose the path of an ecologist.

“I am currently studying at the University of Central Asia in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. I have not yet decided on a specific specialty, but in any case I want to benefit the world,” says Shahnoza.

According to Shakhnoza, the support of her brothers, sisters and parents helps her a lot, they always reassure her that the choice will ultimately be her own, for which she is very grateful to them.

Solving the challenges posed by the modern climate is essential to securing a better future for ourselves; therefore it is not surprising that today's youth pay close attention to preserving the environment.