In September, CWS field staffers decided to bring their knowledge about water, sanitation and waterborne disease to the classroom. The CWS field staff team, which includes Peter, Shak, Wahab, Amin and me, Brianan, (you can read our bios here) met every week in August to prep. During household visits, we usually only talk to the older members of the families, especially the women who are in charge of collecting drinking water. So we were all excited to talk to students in some of our partnership communities. Peter and Wahab presented in a primary school classroom in the village of Gidanturu. Shak and Amin are planning to present at the primary school in Kpalung.
For our presentation in Gidanturu, we went the week before to schedule a day that would work for Yussef and Fuseini, the head teachers at the school. Seeing what life was like in the classroom was an experience in itself. “School in the village is different from school in Tamale”, says Peter. And I could tell what he meant the second I stepped foot inside the classroom. When we arrived early on Monday morning, the children, who ranged from 3 years old to 10 years old, were scattered about and playing inside and outside the school. Fuseini had just arrived from Salaga (it was about 10:30 am by this point) and was still in his travel clothes. He told us that he comes to teach in Gidanturu during the week but lives in Salaga on the weekends. So the students were occupying themselves in anticipation of his arrival.
Fuseini walked us into the classroom and gave us some chalk to write on the board. He gathered the children who were outside and brought them in to sit at their desks. Despite his tardiness, he had exceptional command over his students. I wrote “Community Water Solutions: Healthy Habits” on the chalk board and Peter and Wahab started the presentation, while I sat on the sidelines and let them steal the show. Peter and Wahab kicked off the class with a demonstration on clean water vs. clear water. They used 3 water bottles: 1 filled with treated polytank water, 1 filled with a salt-water solution and 1 filed with dugout water. Then they invited students to select and taste which ones they thought were clean and which ones they thought were contaminated.
The students immediately decided that the dugout water was contaminated, which was obvious to the naked eye because the water was dark brown (nobody tasted this sample). They brought up several students to distinguish between the salt-water solution and the polytank water (they were both clear solutions in water bottles so it was impossible to tell the difference just by looking).
The salty water surprised the students. Peter and Wahab then talked about water contamination, the spread of waterborne diseases, rainwater collection and proper drinking water storage.
The newly empowered instructors concluded the lesson with a “healthy habits tag game” outside. Two students volunteered to be “it” and took on the roles of the waterborne diseases, Diarrhea and Cholera. Five students volunteered to be 5 different healthy habits such as: washing your hands with soap and water and drinking safe water collected from the polytank. These “healthy habits” each got 3 lives, whereas the rest of the students were not given any lives. If you were tagged aka contracted Cholera or Diarrhea, you were to sit by the tree that was designated as the hospital. After five minutes, the students who practiced healthy habits were the only ones not in the hospital since they were living healthier lifestyles and were less likely to contract these waterborne diseases. The game was complete mayhem but the students liked it and understood its message, which was what we were going for.
After our presentation, Fuseini dismissed the children for lunch. Their day of school had so far consisted of sitting and listening to our presentation for an hour. While I was discouraged by the inefficiencies of the village school system, Wahab, Peter and I felt like our presentation had made an impression on the students. You could tell by their participation and enthusiasm that some of these children were stimulated and interested by what we were telling them. There will be no way for us to know if they actually wash their hands with soap and water before eating and after going to the bathroom. We don’t have the monitoring capacity to be observing their habits 24/7. Maybe they will put what we taught them about healthy habits into practice, maybe they won’t. But at least they learned something new that school day.