Talking to Yemisrach, you're immediately struck by how mature she is for a seven-year-old.

Like many girls her age in Ethiopia, she has various responsibilities at home that fight for her attention and energy. School should be the one place where she enjoys her childhood – but it's lacking the basic facilities that she needs to learn and play.

Six decades without sanitation

Yemisrach is just beginning her education at Bobicho Elementary and High School. But for over six decades it's had no water and barely any access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.

As a result the children are often left thirsty during class, affecting their ability to concentrate, and school has become the place where most children Yemisrach's age are exposed to infections.

Yemisrach, 7, with her teacher Tadelech in Ethiopia.
Yemisrach at school with her teacher, Tadelech Woldegiorghis.
Photo: WaterAid/Behailu Shiferaw

For the girls that have studied at Bobicho – many of them eager to learn and keen to go on to further education after they leave school – this lack of basic facilities has had a particularly profound impact when they hit puberty.

"If you don't provide girls with a conducive environment in which they can manage their periods, they choose not to come to school on those days – three, four, five days every month," Demekech Habte, head of the school's Girls' Club explains. "How can they be competitive with the boys?"

Simple but life-changing results

Meeting the needs of all Bobicho's students, and its teachers, is central to the work we're doing at the school, in partnership with the H&M Conscious Foundation.

Working with a local partner and the school's administrators, we're constructing two toilet blocks with handwashing facilities for girls and students with disabilities – enabling the girls’ old toilet to be transformed into an additional block for the boys.

When the project is finished, there will also be a consistent supply of clean, safe water for the pupils to drink and keep themselves and their school clean. For Yemisrach, the results will be simple, but life-changing.

"If we don't wash, our hands smell bad and that attracts parasites. And they create diseases" she says. "With clean water we will be healthy, and we will be clean."

Find out how clean water and safe toilets can improve girls' and women's futures >