2008: “Our children are truly the best teachers:” Teaching water, sanitation, and hygiene in dramatic style
Miyoba Milton is a big man with a big job – headmaster at the Government Basic School in Choma. He is responsible for approximately 600 pupils and just over a dozen teachers. While completely in charge, he leads with humble authority that is evident in his enthusiasm.
“I never knew the importance of washing my hands until I learned from the children here! It’s too important to keep in school. We must spread the messages of water, sanitation, and hygiene everywhere, so that at school and at home children are always clean,” Milton said at a recent performance of the school’s WASHE Drama Group. “Our children are truly the best teachers.”
Milton's pride is not exaggerated, for his school serves many more than his students. The school is also a community water point, providing clean water and sanitation to hundreds of surrounding households.
“The bond between school and community is strengthened by a sense of shared ownership, a message that the school’s WASHE Drama Group drives home at its frequent performances in the schoolyard,” said Giveson Zulu, UNICEF Zambia WASHE Specialist. “The group uses music and theatrics to educate, entertain, and mobilize peers, teachers, and community members about the role that water, sanitation, and hygiene plays in keeping children and families healthy. Increasing knowledge and awareness of these issues is critical, for diarrhea accounts for approximately 20 percent of all deaths among Zambian children under the age of five.”
Choma Basic School, located in Zambia’s Southern Province, is an example of how inadequate access to clean water and sanitation can create a cycle of disease. According to Leonard Mukosha, an environmental health officer with the Ministry of Health, “The school was nearly shut down."
Attendance dropped drastically when frequent outbreaks of diarrhoea, cholera, and dysentery which made children too sick to come to school. There was no clean water or decent sanitation. Enrolment was about 400 then. Now it is up to 600, thanks to the new boreholes and integrated latrine system that UNICEF helped to provide. Disease has dropped sharply and the school and community benefits.”
In support of school and household WASHE projects, UNICEF Zambia joins forces nationwide with local authorities like Mukosha and Milton, as well as with a number of grassroots NGOs and community groups such as the Choma Parent Teacher Association.
The drama group at Choma is at the heart of social mobilization efforts here. Over 100 peers and community members attended a recent production, a series of songs, dances, and skits aimed at promoting WASHE.
“Within the WASHE theme are also messages about another threat to the lives of children and youth in Zambia, HIV and AIDS,” said Peter Harvey, chief of UNICEF Zambia’s WASHE section.
Another example of WASHE’s broad scope is its impact on girls’ education. Since the improvements in access to clean water and sanitation at the Choma Basic School, more girls have been in attendance, another source of pride for Milton.
“Girls began coming back to school when they heard that new toilets had finally been installed. It was a huge problem before. We had no decent facilities for the girls. They had no privacy. We had hundreds of students and no private toilets for the girls. I did not blame them. How could I? Now, we can be respectful of their rights to equal access and education,” he says.