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At a glance: Philippines

A cleaner environment for learning in the central Philippines

UNICEF Image: Philippines Progress for Children
© UNICEF Philippines/2006
Students wash dishes after lunch at the Antonio Belo Elementary School in the Philippines.

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No. 5: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focused on achieving the 2015 targets set by Millennium Development Goal 7 – to halve  the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

By Rob McBride

CAPIZ, Philippines, 22 September 2006 – The children at San Antonio Elementary School here in the central Philippines are proof that a clean environment is the best environment when it comes to learning.

Thanks to a water and sanitation project undertaken by UNICEF and its local partners, many of the classrooms now have toilets – something that has long been taken for granted in other parts of the world, and indeed in other parts of the Philippines. But the teachers at the San Antonio school know how much of a difference running water and flushing toilets have made.

“Before, the children used the back of the school as their toilet,” confided head teacher Benny Blancaver.

Now, the classrooms for the youngest children at his school all have toilets. And the installation of sinks with running water has helped introduce a culture of hygiene that did not exist before.

UNICEF Image: Philippines Progress for Children
© UNICEF Philippines/2006
Students in the playground of the San Antonio Elementary School. With help from UNICEF, the school now has running water and flushing toilets, creating a much better learning environment.

Washing before lunch

“They had to get their pack lunch and eat without cleaning their hands,” said Mr. Blancaver. “But now the children are trained to wash their hands and wash their faces before they eat.”

Come mealtime each day, one of the pupils in each class will lead his or her classmates in prayers before they all dutifully line up to wash their hands.

Supporting the efforts of municipal authorities, improvements like the ones at San Antonio are gradually being introduced throughout the school system in this region with help from UNICEF. In some areas, running water and flushing toilets are arriving for the first time.

UNICEF Image: Philippines Progress for Children
© UNICEF Philippines/2006
Students at the San Antonio Elementary School in Capiz, central Philippines, wait their turns to wash hands in the newly constructed bathroom.

Community involvement

Another school in Capiz, the Antonio Belo Memorial Elementary School, is a case in point. At the end of class each day, teenager Garie has about the shortest walk home of any of his classmates home; he lives just across the road from the school gates. Yet Garie and his family still have to draw water from the well using a hand pump.

His school, too, was without running water until an electric pump and plumbing were installed to provide the classroom blocks with toilets and washing facilities. The upkeep of the pump provides a good example of innovative ownership involving the whole school community. Each student’s family pays a nominal two pesos per month for its maintenance.

“For the sustainability of the project, the parents and the students must have a sense of ownership,” said an official at the local Municipal Planning Office, Salvador Alba. “Because if they do not own the project, they will not love the project.”

And the proof of that love is in the school attendance figures, which show more students coming to class since the improvements were introduced.




19 September 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on how a cleaner school environment can make a real difference for students and teachers.
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