By Sandy Forster
The young girl shyly held my hand as she took me on a tour of her school — similar, yet strikingly different, from the schools I knew at home, half a world away. The students were eager to have a visitor and excited to show me their work. Since supplies were limited, I could see many students sharing paper, short nubby pencils, and schoolbooks.
I noticed that in the upper primary school grades, four through eight, the classrooms had fewer students, especially girls. The headmaster explained that many children, girls especially, drop out of school to help their mothers bring water from creeks or rivers or when the girls reach the age when their menstrual cycles begin because they don’t have access to bathrooms. He said this particular school didn’t have a water source, nor toilets or even latrines for the students to use.
This first experience visiting a Rotarian-led water and sanitation project site has stayed with me throughout the years. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in School programs are vital for community development and growth. Because of these programs, we are able to see positive changes for families, villages, and nations. School dropout rates decline, health improves as fewer diseases spread, and economic growth accelerates.
In the years following my first WASH trip, I made several more trips to this village. The homes and the school now have easy access to clean water. Toilet blocks have been built at the school and homes have added latrines with toilets. All grades are full with both boys and girls learning, and the dropout rates have declined. Children became ‘teachers’ to parents and grandparents about sanitation and hygiene. Small businesses have grown. And it all began with water.
Now as a member of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (WASRAG), I have the opportunity to help other clubs and districts with their WASH projects. The action group has teamed up with Rotary to offer a three-part webinar series to assist clubs and districts with their WASH in Schools projects. The series will feature ideas and best practices from experts in the field to help you start or expand your projects.
Join us by reserving a spot in the first webinar 15 October to learn how you can make a bigger impact in your community through WASH in Schools.
About the author: Sandy Forster is a past governor of District 5810 (Texas, USA) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group.