By Sacha Westerbeek
SEBETA DISTRICT, 1 February 2014 – “Wash your hands before you eat; wash your hands after visiting the toilet; wash your body… clean your environment ….” The song in the Oromiffa language continues with further messages on hygiene.
When the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Mr Jan Eliasson walks toward the latrines at DimaPrimary School in Sebeta, Oromia Region, he is welcomed by students from the Hygiene and Sanitation club, singing proudly about personal and environmental hygiene.
Hayat Hachallu, is 13 years old and a member of the Dima Primary school Hygiene and Sanitation Club. This 7th grader is certainly not shy. She takes the DSG by the hand and shows him the school latrine, hand washing facilities and the water point.
“Here are the latrines for girls,” she explains to the special visitor, while opening the door carefully. “For us, girls, it is very important to have private facilities. A place where we feel safe and have the privacy we need. The toilets here are not great: they are too dark, the doors don’t close very well and it really smells badly,” she says. “Now, let me show you our newly built latrines,” and she pulls Mr. Eliasson away from the rickety iron sheet structure toward a stone construction.
There are 30,634 primary schools in Ethiopia, of which 5,000 are directly supported by UNICEF. Primary schools are encouraged to address key Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) issues such as installation of water supply, construction of gender-segregated toilets and hand-washing facilities. Hayat and the other girls are benefiting from UNICEF funding for the newly built girls latrine.
“Look Mister look”, Hayat points proudly. “Look, here are our new toilets. They are much better don’t you think,” she asks cheekily. Hayat clarifies that the school Hygiene and Sanitation activities are managed by the Environmental Protection and Sanitation Club which is composed of 105 students of which 57 are girls and 5 are teachers.
Mr Mesfin Tessema, the school director further elaborates: “The sanitation club is established to engage children in various hygiene and sanitation activities as part of learning and behavioural change.”
When Mr Jan Eliasson asks about the clubs activities, Hayat goes into detail: We are involved in the clearing and cleaning of the school compound; cleaning of the latrines; we encourage students to wash their hands after they use latrines; we conduct environmental sanitation campaigns in the school and within the community; and we have established relationships with the nearby Health Post for the promotion of hygiene activities. And we are also involved with the beautification and environmental protection of the school compound with tree planting.”
Children are agents of change
By focusing on school aged children and providing them with the necessary tools and knowledge to change behaviours at school and home, children play a crucial role in sharing information and knowledge with their parents and family members to achieve better health, environmental, sanitation and hygiene practices.
Ethiopia has been an active participant in the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership. In 2013, the Ethiopian Government, with support from UNICEF, was able to establish a Sector-wide Approach termed the ONE WASH National Programme with a dedicated budget line for sanitation in the Government of Ethiopia’s treasury for sanitation.
Since 1990, the country has made substantial progress in improving access to water supply and sanitation coverage. However, millions of people still remain without access to safe water and sanitation services. In 2010, out of a population of over 80 million, about 46 million were without access to improved water supply and sanitation and Ethiopia had the highest number of people (38 million) practicing open defecation among African countries. The lack of access to adequate clean drinking water and sanitation services has a dramatic impact on the lives of people, especially women and girls, and undermines efforts to improve health, nutrition and education outcomes.
Although good progress is underway, still some challenges remain. Nationally, only around 31 per cent of school have water supply facilities in their premises and 33 per cent have improved latrine facilities. On average, the toilet/student ratio is 1:120. In Oromia Region, where the Dima Primary School is situated, only 52 per cent of its total population has access to safe drinking water and the sanitation and hygiene coverage is also 52 per cent.
It is up to ALL of us
The Deputy Secretary-General talks with the school children to hear about their experiences. While they explain the importance of the school club in educating the community on hygiene practices, and the challenges they are facing, the DSG appeals to each and every one of them. “It is up to ALL of us,” he underlines while speaking to the students and the bystanders. With passion and conviction he adds: “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something”.
Hayat and her peers nod in agreement. Although they had never previously heard of the DSG’s Call to Action on Sanitation, they know the importance of sanitation. They know their individual and club efforts will bring change. They know its up to them to make their school and community a better place. In the end, this is also their call to action.