HERAT, Afghanistan, 31 October 2013 – When you enter Tajrabavi Girls School in Herat, your eyes are drawn to the shiny, pastel-green pipes that skirt the new sink, and the sparkle of the water droplets that dance about as children drink clean water and wash their hands and faces.
In Afghanistan, one million schoolchildren now have access to clean, fresh water, new toilets and lessons about hand-washing – and they are bringing the message home.
“Our school is one of the best in Afghanistan,” says Samira, a student. “We have good facilities, a library, and we study in a healthy environment.
“We are very lucky because we have very good teachers,” she adds. “They teach us why it is very important to wash our hands and take care of our personal hygiene.”
Water and hygiene, in school and at home
Samira and her classmates can now line up to drink water and wash their hands at six taps in the school. These new taps were constructed as part of a UNICEF programme that aims to improve access to clean water and sanitation in schools across the country.
UNICEF has supported more than one million students through the construction of water and toilet facilities in more than 1,300 schools in Afghanistan. It has built separate toilets for boys and girls and sanitary incinerators – an improvement that has proven critical to keeping girls in school all over the world.
In one classroom in Samira’s school, Afsana Sayeedi, a young teacher, counsels students on the importance of hygiene and washing their hands. “Last year, I became sick after drinking dirty water,” says Ms. Sayeedi. “Everyone should drink clean water or they will get sick.
“We learn many things about personal hygiene, like when to wash our hands and don’t eat fruit which is not washed with clean water,” she continues. “Now I can also advise my family about these issues.” Ms. Sayeedi has soap and clean water in her home, a novelty for many in these parts.
Sanitation to keep children in school
Some progress has been made in provision of and access to clean water and improved sanitation in Afghanistan, but the country has a long way to go. According to the 2010–2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 43 per cent of Afghanistan’s population still do not have access to improved drinking water, and 71.5 per cent do not have access to improved sanitation.
Fewer than half of all schools in the country have basic water and sanitation facilities, which has serious implications for the health of children. Diarrhoeal diseases linked to poor hand-washing and hygiene practices and inadequate sanitation can result in death.
UNICEF is working with the government to address hygiene issues in the schools.
“If a school lacks basic hygiene facilities, students will fall sick and will not be able to attend classes,” says Moayed, Director of the Health Department for Education in Herat. “Proper washing facilities have helped in providing an improved learning environment. Students now attend school regularly, and the number of those falling ill has dropped.”
Story by Alessandro Pavone