Our next group of IWitnesses is off to visit Mozambique with UNICEF. UN Youth Volunteer Coordinator Pip Bennett is here today to tell us more about UNICEF’s work in the country.
A good learning environment is more than a classroom.
Recently, I was lucky to accompany colleagues on a field visit in the Tete province to see the effect of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects for communities. We visited two different communities – one that is open-defecation free (meaning people have toilets they can defecate in, instead of defecating on the streets or in fields, potentially contaminating their water sources), and the other which is still in the process of becoming open-defecation free. WASH in Mozambique is incredibly important, as less than 25% of the population has access to basic sanitation, and only about half the population has access to safe water.
During the visit to the open-defecation free community in the Changara district, we visited the local primary school. It was one long building divided into two classrooms. The grounds were surrounded by trees, with plenty of space for the children to run and play. We also saw two separate blocks of toilets, one for boys and the other for girls, and facilities for handwashing.
Providing a good learning environment is more than just classrooms and desks. It is supporting students to be able to have clean, safe water to drink, safe places to go to the bathroom, and places to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease.
Having separate toilet facilities for girls and boys is essential. If there are no safe and separate facilities at school, girls will miss school or return home early, putting their education in jeopardy.
Providing toilets and facilities to hand-wash helps prevent diseases such as cholera as well as diarrhea. This is especially important in Mozambique, where stunting (from chronic malnutrition) is very high – 43% of children are stunted. Stunting means that children are shorter than average, but the effects do not stop there. It also means their brains were not able to develop properly, which has huge effects on their ability to learn and be healthy, as well as later in life, to be able to work and contribute to society.
UNICEF uses School-led Total Sanitation (an adaption of the Community-led Total Sanitation approach) to improve water and sanitation for children at school. This approach is not only about providing infrastructure but also about ensuring the elimination of open defecation in schools and communities and the proper disposal of rubbish and waste. This approach understands that simply providing toilets will not necessarily lead to behaviour change. Working in schools and communities also requires a lot of knowledge sharing and sensitisation about the detrimental effects of open defecation, particularly on health.
The 400 students who attend the school I visited have access to a clean school with separate facilities for boys and girls, handwashing, and clean water—and I have no doubt that it makes a big difference to their learning.
I would like to thank the IKEA Foundation and other partners for their support to education in Mozambique. It takes a community to raise a child, so thank you to all those in our big community who contribute to making sure all children in Mozambique can survive and thrive.