As children around the world go back to school, one in three have no clean water or toilets

Posted by
Christine LaRocque
September 4, 2017
Thumbnail WaterAid/James Kiyimba

Download images>

As children pack their bags and head back to school, WaterAid is sharing a snapshot of experiences from classrooms across the world.

From Uganda to Canada, the UK to Zambia, these photos and stories reveal the similarities in school life across the globe as well as the stark differences and inequalities that exist in facilities and opportunities for the students.

One in ten children have no clean water at home, and girls in particular spend hours walking to collect water, leaving little time for education, keeping them trapped in poverty and stopping them reaching their potential.

Maritha, 15, from Zambia, said:

“I go to school as often as I can, but sometimes I miss it for two weeks continuously as I spend a lot of time collecting water and harvesting crops. School is important because, with education one stands a better chance of finding a job and living well in the future. If I don’t stay in school, I am likely to be married off.”

Drinking dirty water causes sickness, which can be deadly. Even if children recover, they still miss valuable school-time. As many as 443 million school days are lost every year due to water-related illnesses.

Zakir is 10 and his school in Pakistan has no access to water or toilets.

When we need the toilet, we go to the jungle. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk there. Our clothes and shoes get dirty, so we sometimes have to go home to change our clothes. It’s not right; we should have proper toilets in our school.”

Girls often skip school when they start their period, or drop out altogether, if there are no decent toilets or space to wash themselves and stay clean and healthy. It also makes it difficult to attract teachers.

Tryness, 26, is a school teacher at Kambira Primary School in Malawi, said:

“To collect water, we used to wake up around 3am. This impacted on our ability to teach well as we were tired. Also, we used to have a lot of diarrhoea cases, especially amongst our young pupils. Teachers left for another school but I told myself to stay a little longer. The first time I got a bucket of clean water from the new borehole, my life changed for the better.”

With access to clean water, decent toilets and basic hygiene, going back to school is a very different experience. Children can be children and focus on their studies so they can achieve their dreams.

Jean is 13, and from Madagascar. WaterAid installed a gravity-fed water system and a school toilet block in his community.

“I used to collect dirty water for as long as I can remember. But now, villagers, teachers and pupils are no longer suffering because we have clean water and a nice toilet block. I am responsible for helping look after the school’s water, sanitation and hygiene facilities; that’s why they call me ‘President’. When I am older, I want to be a teacher.”

Ella is 11. This year she will attend Grade 6 at a school in Ottawa, Canada.

 “My favourite part of school is all my friends. I worry the most about not getting good grades. I do not feel anything affects my ability to get a good education because we are lucky to live in such a great country.”

Georgine, 12, from the UK, said

“Girls can be undermined in education and sports; but every day we prove we are just as good. We should believe we can do whatever we want.” London, UK.

The presence of water, toilets and hygiene in schools is as vital as having pens and books for students. Access to all three ensure a healthier learning environment, enabling every girl and every boy, no matter where they live, to gain an education and set a foundation for a more prosperous future.

The gallery is part of WaterAid’s global campaign, The Water Fight, to make clean water and decent toilets normal for every child and every school everywhere by 2030.