Zambian Girl Inspires Water Action
Originally appears in the Winter 2012-2013 issue
Teaching about global water issues can be challenging when the enormity of the problems seem insurmountable. For example, today over three billion people live without access to safe water and basic sanitation. But this fact provides an incomplete story because local action and community development are providing positive solutions to millions of people. When we share with students real stories of hope and empowerment, they become engaged from a place of optimism instead of despair. They are more likely to take action when they see that solutions are possible.
One way to engage youth in global water issues is to collect stories from children in developing countries who have lived through challenges such as having contaminated well water or lacking access to a toilet. Through their stories, these kids show not just the problems, but creative solutions that their communities have used to overcome challenges and improve their health and environment.
One such story is about a ten year old girl named Tikho, who lives in Zambia. In April 2010, a Calgary educator met Tikho and asked her to share her story. She was happy to oblige. With a digital camera, Tikho began to take photos and video of her daily life, particularly as it related to water, sanitation and hygiene.
One of her chores was to collect water for her family. Unfortunately, her community water source was badly contaminated with feces due to open defecation. The well is especially vulnerable in the rainy season, when feces from livestock and humans flood through the makeshift cover into the well. As a result, Tikho’s town was named Chipulukusu, or Cursed, because people were frequently getting sick and dying from waterborne diseases.
How then, did the town become renamed to Mapolo, or Blessed? In a word: education. Tikho’s mother Gladys works as a nurse for an organization called Seeds of Hope International Partnerships that provides training for communities who are interested in learning how to improve their water, hygiene and sanitation situation. Once the community of Chipulukusu understood why they were getting sick, they began to take action, first by installing tippy taps. These are hand washing stations that are constructed by hanging a jug of water and soap on a rope from a tree. Kids in the community have now been taught to always wash their hands after going to the bathroom or before touching food.
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Michelle Macdonald is the Program Manager for Youth Wavemakers, a water education program of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) in Calgary, Alberta. Tikho’s Story (ie. a multi-media slide show), the following activities and dozens of other education resources can be downloaded for free from www.cawst.org/wavemakers.