Student-run WASH club promotes proper sanitation and hygiene practices in Ethiopia

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By Indrias Getachew

SOMALI REGION, Ethiopia, 14 April 2011 - At ten minutes to break time, Kadr Hassen, 15, and other members of the Harmukayle Haji Mumin School’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) club here in Harmukayle, Shinile Zone, make their way to the compound where the cooks are preparing the mid-morning school meal.

Filling buckets with water from the nearby taps - newly constructed by the Somali Region Water Bureau with support from UNICEF - they carry them to the corner where stacks of clean plates wait to be filled with the porridge simmering in giant cooking pots. One of the many ways the WASH club members promote good hygiene in the school is to keep the plates washed and clean.

Once the school bell rings, students head to the area where Kadr and his WASH club friends have laid out the plates. The students each take a plate and line up to get their fortified porridge.

Extending water service

Having ensured the orderly distribution of food, Kadr moves to the water point to make sure that all students get a chance to drink. In the Somali Region desert, the day is already scorching hot. The throng of thirsty students grows impatient, testing Kadr’s leadership skills. One by one each student gets his or her cup filled.

Responding to the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of the school, the Somali Regional Water Bureau, with support from UNICEF, extended water service to the school from the Harmukayle main line and installed eight water taps inside the school compound. In addition, separate boys and girls toilets were constructed to serve the 288 students and school staff .

Firdoze Ali, 13, waits for the crowd to thin before taking her turn to drink from the taps.

“We are very happy to have these new taps,” said Firdoze, after drinking her fill with her hands cupped under the flow of cool water. “Last year there was only one tap in the school compound and everyone would fight to drink before having to go back into class. If you were not strong or lucky you would not get any water; then you had to sit through the next class thinking about how thirsty you were.”

Big dreams

“Our duties as part of the WASH club include ensuring the proper use of the water and toilet facilities in our school,” said Kadr. “We use the morning line-up before the start of classes to inform the students about sanitation and hygiene practices, including the importance of hand-washing with soap. We encourage students to take responsibility for the facilities and make sure they are kept clean. Every week we organize a group to clean the toilets. As a result, our school toilets are kept clean and students feel comfortable using them, which is a big change from before when the toilets would get so dirty nobody wanted to use them.”

Both Firdoze and Kedr are students with big ambitions.

“I am the first girl in my family to go to school and my dream is to be a doctor when I grow up,” says Firdoze. “There is no doctor in Harmukayle, and I want to be able to fulfil this important service for my community.”

“I want to be either a journalist, a scientist, or both,” says Kedr. “I listen to journalists on the radio giving us information about faraway places, and I would like to be able to do that one day. I would like to tell the world about what is happening in my community as well. If I were a journalist I would do stories about all the trees that people are chopping for firewood and charcoal, which is harming the environment. I would also report about conserving water. Water is life, and we have to do everything to conserve it.”