In the Upper Copalita watershed of Oaxaca, Mexico, Sarar Transformación (Sarar-T) has changed the way three communities think and act toward sanitation and water access and management. Schools in San Miguel Suchixtepec, San Pedro El Alto and San Marcial Ozolotepec have historically had little to no access to water and sanitation. In response, Sarar-T is working to provide access to water and sanitation as well as community gardens in pre-school, primary and secondary schools.
The organization involves the entire school community in the initial assessment process and choice of technical options and also trains teachers, parents and students on maintaining and using the facilities and practicing proper hygiene. Through such trainings, Sarar-T has introduced and fostered the uptake of dry sanitation facilities—a previously uncommon technology in schools of the region—which conserve water and keep waste out of waterways. To multiply their impact throughout the communities, Sarar-T trains students, administrators and parent committees to act as agents of change for water, sanitation and basic hygiene, bringing lessons and technologies to the greater community.
Sarar-T has found that knowledge transfer between subsequent generations of parent committees and school authorities is absolutely essential. Without mechanisms to do so, the operation and maintenance of facilities may fall by the wayside, causing them to end in misuse or disrepair.
In order to generate key findings and learnings from its work in the Upper Copalita, Sarar-T joined together with World Wildlife Fund Mexico to host a one day forum on best practices in water, sanitation and hygiene in schools. The forum, supported by Global Water Challenge and The Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation, was attended by local and national stakeholders, including school, parent committee and municipal representatives as well as officials from the Mexican Ministries of Education, Health, Social Development, and Environment and Natural Resources. Representatives from The Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation and the Commissions for Development of Indigenous Villages and for National Forests also participated.
The discussions covered Sarar-T’s work as well as World Wildlife Fund Mexico’s activities in the watershed. The combined water, sanitation, hygiene and conservation programs of these two organizations have made these communities frontrunners and models in sustainable water use and environmental protection, key strategies for climate change adaptation. To read more, click here (in Spanish).
According to Ron Sawyer, a Director at Sarar-T, the forum was a “smashing success and a ‘watershed’ event in itself. It helped to demonstrate that rural school water and sanitation services can be appropriate and sustainable if the time is taken up-front to fully involve the school community in the selection and maintenance of the systems. The SWASH Forum in this remote mountain area succeeded in generating considerable enthusiasm and interest in follow-up at local, state and national levels.”
After hearing presentations from the benefiting schools and municipalities, participants broke into smaller discussion groups to evaluate the success and shortcomings of the program. Across all of the working groups, participants expressed interest in the continued involvement of Sarar-T in project communities to ensure the full social uptake and adoption of the behavior necessary to support long term sustainability in water and sanitation. The full outcomes from the forum can be found here (PDF in Spanish).
The learnings from this forum come at a seminal time. The Mexican government is currently developing a comprehensive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools strategy with support from a recent Inter-American Development Bank loan totaling US$350 million. Drawing on the experiences of Sarar-T and other organizations working on WASH in Schools, such as GWC-funded Alternativas and Grupo de Estudios Ambientales, the Mexican government aims to reduce the incidence of waterborne disease and the related school absenteeism, to improve and expand school water supply and sanitation and to establish good hygiene practices in schools across the country.
GWC has supported the work of Sarar Transformación, Alternativas and Grupo de Estudios on WASH in Schools since 2009 through its Mexico Schools Program. To read more about GWC’s schools programs in Mexico, click here (PDF).