Globally, approximately 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water and 2.4 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
In Sapahaqui in western Bolivia, the infant mortality rate was 68 deaths per 1,000 infants in 2010. This was largely due to the lack of basic sanitation infrastructure and poor hygiene habits – diarrhoea was one of the main causes of death for children under five years.
ChildFund is working with local partners in Sapahaqui to build and repair school bathroom facilities, provide sanitation kits and teach children and their families’ proper hygiene practices.
Children once used one-metre deep holes as their toilets at school. Often, they preferred to go outside instead of visiting the dirty, smelly restrooms. Other schools didn’t even have indoor facilities.
Families also didn’t always wash their hands after going to the bathroom, mainly because water is very scarce and valuable in Sapahaqui – most people had no water sources other than small streams and springs.
Some communities were lucky to be near water, but other families had to go a long way to fetch it. When they did get water, it was just enough for washing clothes, cooking and watering the fruit trees – which for many are their main source of income. Most families knew that basic sanitation habits were important to maintaining good health, but it was a luxury they just could not afford.
Now, ChildFund Bolivia staff members have established hand-washing centres in almost every school in Sapahaqui. “This is how you wash your hands,” exclaims 10-year-old Eliana as she proudly demonstrates cleaning from palms to fingers to nails.
School children now wash their hands at least once a day at school, with clean water provided through the SODIS method – which purifies water by hanging plastic bottles in the sun for several hours. Since it is now much easier to get access to clean water, children and families in Sapahaqui are able to use water to practice basic sanitation habits, even in the harsh dry seasons when it barely rains and the streams dry out.