Remembering What it Feels Like to be Thirsty

Sumi, 11, remembers what it was like to go to a school that did not have drinking water or latrines. “Being thirsty was so painful,” she said. “Not being able to use the toilet all day was painful too, especially during my long walk home from school.”

In Shariatpur, a district in central Bangladesh, Sumi’s experience is not uncommon. Concern surveyed schools in Shariatpur and found 40 percent of them to be without drinking water or sanitation facilities. Among the students and families living near schools, one in five people had an illness related to a waterborne disease. On average, students had to walk 19 minutes from their school to get a drink of water from the closest well, pond or river – often risking harassment from the people who own the water source.

“One day during math class, I went out to get water from a house near our school,” said Sumi. “I was about to drink the water when someone came out of the house and shouted at me, pushing me down on the ground. When I returned to the classroom, the teacher gave me detention for being late. I was so hurt and humiliated that I stopped going to school after that.”

Clean Water Improves School Attendance and Children’s Health in Bangladesh

Thankfully, Sumi is back in school, where she has access to safe drinking water and latrines. With funding from charity: water, Concern has improved access to safe water and sanitation at 154 schools, benefiting more than 38,000 school children and another 20,000 teachers, parents and community members.

The program has not only improved children’s health, but also had an enormous impact on their school attendance and levels of concentration in class. “Students are now spending more time in the classroom,” said Kabari Guha, the principal at one of the primary schools. “They used to have to leave school to fetch drinking water or go to the toilet, and sometimes they would not return.”

In fact, since the program started, school attendance has increased by 10 percent.

For Sumi, having a water pump and latrines at her school is something she will not take for granted. “Now, people from the neighborhood come to drink water from our well.” she said. “But I never behave badly towards them, because I will never forget how it feels to be thirsty.”