A Hands-On Approach to Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation in Schools.

Jessica headshotJessica Harris

Media Relations Intern, Save the Children

Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blue skies and sunshine abounded as I walked down Connecticut Avenue yesterday morning on my way to the Academy for Educational Development’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene event. Birds were chirping, people were sharing a laugh on a street corner, and I even caught myself humming a tune as I approached the AED building.

This feeling of joy soon dissappeared as I began to tour the WASH exhibit.

Did you know that 50% of schools worldwide do not have access to clean water?  As I read the children’s stories from developing countries that are currently displayed in the AED exhibit, I chastised myself for being so naïve to the plights of others.

As the crowd found their seats, Jon Hamilton of NPR introduced us to Jack Downey of AED, Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and the three panelists who would be speaking.

In total, seven people addressed the audience. The message, however, was the same.  By implementing WASH programs in schools in developing countries, we are improving the quality of life for the students as well as their families.

Tippy station

A "Tippy Station", complete with water, soap, and hand towels, was available for attendees to take turns washing their hands during the event.

Denise Knight, Water Sustainability Manager for The Coca-Cola Co., shared a story that highlighted the importance of providing clean water to developing countries.

During one visit to a community in which WASH programs were just being introduced, one community member said that they had been getting their water from the nearby stream for as long as she could remember. It had never dawned on them that the water was contaminated. It was, though, and the community had had its fair share of loss because of the dirty water. At the time, there was only one child under the age of 5 still living in the town.

Stories like these make you stop and think about how lucky we are. I rarely question whether I will be able to wash my hands with soap and water when I use the restroom or sit down to eat. Even less common is my fear of contracting an illness like worms or hepatitis from tainted water. To take this one step further, and to be completely honest, I have never thought about dying from contracting a preventable illness like diarrhea.

This is a real fear, though, for many children across the globe: 1.5 million children die from diarrhea annually.

As I left the WASH event today I felt as though I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Here I had been enjoying listening to my iPod and drinking my $5 Starbucks coffee just two hours earlier, and now I could not stop thinking about the millions of children to whom contamination and severe illness are an everyday threat due to the lack of clean water.

The work done by organizations like Save the Children, UNICEF, AED, and others is commendable and, in reality, a lifesaver.

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Update:

Today, October 15,  is Global Handwashing Day. Bloggers around the world are raising awareness of the topic by posting about water as part of Blog Action Day, an annual event intended to spark global action.