By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter, Project WET Foundation
“Before Project WET, our students practiced hygiene behaviors this way,” the staff of the Santa Carlota School in Apopa, El Salvador explained. Students crowded around a plastic wash tub trying to wash their hands in a single, unchanging water source.
"Now they practice healthy habits in this manner.” Students enthusiastically lather up their hands with soap and fresh water at a small sink with a tap.
These two pictures offer a small-scale representation of a large-scale program. In 2010, the Project WET Foundation and UN-HABITAT launched a project in five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) to promote what UN-HABITAT calls “human values-based water, sanitation and hygiene education” (HVWSHE). HVWSHE is designed to bring about significant change in the attitude and actions of people as it relates to water, sanitation and hygiene by instilling values such as respect for water resources and the health of communities.
Working in Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico, Project WET and UN-HABITAT held workshops in each country to adapt Project WET’s award-winning Africa WASH education materials for Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing on healthy habits, disease prevention, water source protection and water conservation. Initially, organizers had thought one Spanish-language version would suffice, but it was soon clear that there would need to be five different sets of materials, each with small but important differences to reflect both linguistic and cultural differences. Local partners and educators on the ground in each country helped shape the separate versions, which were also field tested before implementation.
Once the materials were completed, Project WET conducted a series of train-the-trainer workshops to kick off the implementation phase. Ultimately, some 5,000 educators and 100,000 students in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico received copies of the Agua Saludable, Hábitos Saludables, Personas Saludables (Healthy Water, Healthy Habits, Healthy People) children’s activity booklet and educators guide. At the same time, Project WET developed and launched a Spanish-language educators’ portal as a resource center and professional network for educators living and working in LAC countries. All of the materials are freely available as digital downloads from the Project WET website or the Spanish-language portal.
One of the portal’s first purposes was as a grant application clearinghouse, allowing schools and organizations within the five countries to apply for small “demonstration project” grants to carry out infrastructure and water provision projects. The two projects—the one in Apopa and another in Patacamaya, Bolivia—were chosen based on cost, feasibility and capacity to fulfill the project objectives.
Grant funding constituted only a portion of each project’s budget to encourage local buy-in and sustainability.
The community of Apopa, just north of San Salvador, built a new water tank to allow both morning and afternoon sessions at the school to store water safely for drinking, washing and cooking. They also paved part of the school yard to improve hygiene conditions, created safe storage spaces for food and water in a renovated kitchen and restored drinking fountains to allow students ready access to safe drinking water.
In Patacamaya—a small city in the Bolivian Altiplano (high plateau) region—the grant was used as part of a larger program to improve sanitation facilities in the town’s schools, with a focus on the school’s youngest pupils, ages 4 to 6.
Overall, a recent evaluation workshop in Colombia revealed that the Project WET-UN-HABITAT LAC project has been a success. The customized materials are having a positive effect on the health and behaviors of children in the implementation area. All of the final workshop participants indicated that they have seen changes in student behaviors following implementation, including:
- washing hands more frequently
- conserving water
- improved knowledge about water sources
- better hygiene practices including cleaner bathrooms
- more emphasis placed on clean/adequate water sources in the school and cleaner drinking water options
- stronger values such as responsibility, compassion and care for the environment
The challenge going forward remains one of overall sustainability, given that resources are scarce for continuing or scaling up the program. In particular, funds are lacking for additional printed materials, which are vital in areas with low access to digital resources. Project WET and its local partners (listed below) are actively seeking additional funding.
To learn more about the project or to get involved, please contact Julia Nelson at the Project WET Foundation.
Project WET’s WASH education materials (free for download in English, Spanish, French, Kiswahili, with additional resources in Chichewa; available by request in Kannada)
Bolivia: Plan International
Colombia: Local Government Quibdó, UNICEF in Quibdó and ACF
Peru: UNDP and Gobierno Regional de Junín
Mexico: Joint Programme of MDG and the Secretary of Education of Veracruz
El Salvador: Ministries of Education of San Salvador and La Libertad and Local Governments