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Children and women lead the way to ‘total sanitation’ in Pakistan earthquake zone

© UNICEF Pakistan/2007/Simeon
Children attend a school sanitation and hygiene education session in the Pakistan-administered region of Kashmir, where 11 villages have abolished open-defecation practices.

By Sandra Bisin

PAKISTAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR, 29 February 2008 – Said Alam remembers the day when his granddaughter came back from school with a smile and a request that was about to change the whole family’s mindset and habits.

“She looked at me and asked me to build a latrine for our family,” he says. “I am a poor man. I lost five family members in the October 2005 earthquake. And I have been used to defecating in the fields, outside our home, all my life. So I asked her why, and she told me that open defecation can cause diseases.”

Mr. Alam continues: “She also told me that at school they have latrines and that they can already see the benefits for the children. Saira is my beloved granddaughter, and I want the best for her. I finally accepted to build a latrine four months ago. It cost me Rs. 1,000 [approximately US$ 16]. Now the whole family uses the latrine.”

Saira, 12, and her family are not the only ones in Kot Serian village who eventually gave up trips to the fields. Today, all 53 households in the village are equipped with proper latrines. The initiative owes everything to the village’s children and women.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2007/Simeon
Saira Said Alam, 12, who promoted the use of latrines in her village, with her grandfather.

Teachers and students as role models

The School-Led Total Sanitation project was piloted by UNICEF in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in mid-2007. Drawing from experience gathered by UNICEF and its partners, the programme initiates change by developing useful health and hygiene skills in school to encourage life-long positive habits.

“With this approach, we use teachers and children as entry points into the communities,” explains UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Victor Kinyanjui. “The idea is that children replicate sanitation and hygiene practices learnt at school into their families, and also advocate for the use of latrines. Teachers are also real opinion leaders, as they are educated and respected. People listen to them.”

During the past two years, nearly 4,500 primary school teachers were trained, and more than 316,000 students received instruction, in school sanitation and hygiene education.

Towards a healthier environment

Community members – especially women – have been significantly involved in the process of encouraging the construction of latrines in every home in their village.

“A latrine for every household has changed the whole village’s life,” says Shamim Azam, a social organizer for UNICEF’s partner organization in the village, Society for Sustainable Development.

“Most of the pits for the latrines were actually built by women,” adds Ms. Azam. “They were the ones that supported the idea from the very beginning, as they were the ones suffering most from the lack of toilets. Before, women had no privacy. They had to wait until night came to defecate outside. That had extremely bad effects on their health, especially during winter.”

In Pakistan, 59 per cent of rural communities do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Today, 11 villages in Pakistan-administered Kashmir have been granted open defecation-free status by UNICEF and its partners. This is an important step towards creating a healthier environment in Pakistan, where about 1,100 children under five die every day of preventable diseases, including diarrhoea.




29 February 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on one village’s success in achieving ‘total sanitation’ with a latrine for every home.
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