Day 1 – getting an education

This has been an intense and overwhelming 36 hours.

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Since landing in Maputo, Mozambique, I’ve been bombarded with new sights, noises, smells, ways of living and information.  And I’ve moved rapidly between such contrasts – from an international flight, to a latrine surrounded by torn plastic sheeting, to the small unlit home of four young orphans, to a school yard buzzing with happy children – that I’m struggling to process it all …

So let me start with this, and take you to a primary school we visited this afternoon in bairro (region) Mavalane, Maputo:

Until 2011, this primary school did not have clean water or safe toilets for the children to use.  WaterAid select projects based on priority, and this school was selected because it had the greatest need.

That level of deprivation was hard to imagine today, after a WaterAid intervention that was completed earlier this year .  It was really clear how proud all the children and staff were of their male and female toilet blocks, with 4 latrines each, and hand-washing station.  The head teacher described how as a result of WaterAid’s building of these facilities:

  • attendance and the children’s well-being have improved
  • the school is now sought after by parents wanting to send their children there
  • parents ask to use the toilet when they come to the school
  • staff, including her, travel for 30km in order to teach there, with its exceptional sanitation facilities.

But what most impressed me about this WaterAid project was its focus on youth empowerment.  And the children’s enthusiasm for the subjects of hygiene and handwashing!  A physical building might be the most visible change, but education and engagement are critical to ensure that changes last.

Coming from a teaching and education background, I was interested to ask about what kind of teaching and learning techniques the teachers used to create effective behaviour change.  You can’t just build a toilet block and expect people to want or know how to use it safely to minimise the spread of disease.  For anything to be used, people need to understand the benefits and want to use it.

Before the toilet block was built, 32 children were taught about how best to use their new sanitation block, how to wash their hands and use water wisely, and given the responsibility for educating the other students.  They formed the ‘Sanitation Club’, complete with T-shirts, wall murals and daily reminders about handwashing and hygiene in assemblies.

This struck me as similar to school councils or eco-clubs that UK schools use to involve students in decision-making and responsible citizenship.

The behaviour change messages, about the dangers of diarrhoea and cholera that arise from defecating in the open and not washing your hands, are also taken home by the children.  As part of the WaterAid project, 1000 latrines and 400 safe water sources were also installed in the homes with the greatest need in the local school community.  This kind of intervention gets the whole community talking about hygiene, and the ‘pester power’ of children teaching their parents hygienic practices can have a great impact.

As the children of the Sanitation Club sang and danced to their sanitation song for us today, and acted out a scene in which they showed the dangers of not washing your hands after going to the toilet, you could sense their pride in responsibility.  They had the knowledge and the responsibility of looking after their community.  And they were doing a powerful and fun job, dancing and acting at being teacher.

WaterAid Mozambique have identified promoting behaviour change and sanitation as a key objective in their new 5 year plan.  It was brilliant to see words from a policy translated firmly into action.  And to see school children at the forefront and leading the change.

Tomorrow I’m headed to Boane.  I’m visiting a pre-intervention health centre, so I’m quite worried about what I might find there.  Check in tomorrow for an update X

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