Inspirational teachers and clean water: the key to children's futures

Thumbnail WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

We all remember a great teacher; that person who shines a guiding light at a time when you have no idea what you are doing tomorrow, let alone what you are doing for the rest of your life.

Under a huge tree in the middle of Chilangiza village, Malawi, is one such teacher. Her class starts at 8am and, since the village got clean water last year, the number of students is increasing.

“Most of them regard me as their mother. I really love them so much. Every day when I wake up, I look forward to teaching them how to read and write. I want the best for them – which is having a bright future.”

Christina and her aunt run the kindergarten for free. Despite having no books, the pair have created resources to help the children learn Chichewa (the local language), English, mathematics and religious studies.

Christina holding her self-made teaching materials in Malawi.WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga
Christina teaching numbers to her kindergarten class.

“Throughout my childhood, I saw a lot of people who had a promising future,” says Christina. “But the conditions and opportunities were not available for them to flourish – one of which was a lack of water.”

Childhood should be a time of opportunity and exploration. Learning to read, write and count may be taken for granted in the UK, but around the world, millions of children are missing out on these formative years. Without clean water, decent toilets or good hygiene at school, they are constantly exposed to deadly diseases, leading to missed lessons and failure to make the progress they should. To avoid getting sick, many won't drink altogether - but that means being thirsty, tired and unable to concentrate.

For decades, the Chilangiza community had to walk very long distances to fetch water from the crocodile-infested Bua River. “As a result, most young learners ended up absconding from their classes, as they could not go to school without a meal or taking a shower,” Christina explains. “This resulted in a massive school dropout.”

Christina also suffered her own bereavement as both her children died, one from Sepsis when just a month old.

“It was the hardest and most painful time of my life,” she says. But opening the kindergarten had given her a second chance to be a mother.

“Despite losing both my children, I have come to cherish and support all the children in this community. They are indeed our leaders of tomorrow. It is our core responsibility to teach and shape them in the right way.”

Growing up, many children like to ask ‘why?’ It’s a phrase that can wear out any parent, but it’s a question we often ask here at WaterAid, too. Why do almost one in three schools around the world not have clean water? Why do even fewer have decent toilets? Why are millions of children and teachers exposed to deadly diseases caused by drinking dirty water and going to the toilet in the open?