Known as much for the warmth of its people as for its amazing landscapes, Malawi is a stunningly beautiful country. Though historically underdeveloped, reforms in recent years have allowed for real economic growth, as well as a slow improvement in environmental and health concerns.
Malawi’s economy is primarily reliant on agriculture, however farmers were for many years often confronted with natural disasters which result in food shortages. In recent years the government has been able to subsidize fertilizers resulting in greater crop yields and allowing Malawi to become a net food exporter.
Still, many Malawians live in poverty, a poverty which is exacerbated by a lack of basic infrastructure. For some, access to clean water has increased. In 2006 it was estimated that as much as 74 percent of the population had a safe water point. However, vulnerable populations remain. During the same period, schools in the Mulanje District were well behind the national average as far as access to water was concerned. Eighty percent of schools and their surrounding communities lacked safe drinking water, with most relying on unprotected water sources such as streams and swamps for their water. In addition, students had limited access to latrines, with an average of 140 students sharing every toilet. The recommended ratio is one toilet for every twenty-five students. To make matters worse, there were also few facilities for hand washing.
Accordingly, Mulanje had some of the worst outbreaks of cholera. In a country where 24 percent of the mortality rate is attributed to diarrhea, proper water and sanitation facilities are of paramount importance.
In 2011, The African Well Fund teamed up with a number of donors, including Proctor and Gamble, H20 for Life, and Water and Sanitation Action Group to implement a WASH program in the Mulanje region of Malawi and the Dodoma Region of Tanzania through partner Africare.
The project aimed to reduce morbidity and mortality due to diarrhea and other waterborne diseases by focusing on providing students with safe drinking water and making sanitation and hygiene facilities accessible.
Fifteen schools in Mulanje were targeted for the project, serving a total of 37,212 children and 8,860 households from surrounding communities.
To address the lack of safe drinking water, the project provided for the procurement of over 2,000,000 PUR water purification tablets. Sourced locally, the tablets were to be distributed to schools which had no sources of potable drinking water while sustainable, long-term water solutions were either built or rehabilitated. All excess tablets were to go to students to use at home, with students without clean water sources particularly targeted.
Each school’s sanitation facilities were also examined, with all of them receiving newly constructed latrines. Members of the local community mobilized to provide the bricks, sand, and other materials necessary for construction, while local artisans helped to build the toilets.
Along with these more material contributions, students and teachers received training in both how to use the PUR tablets as well as proper hygiene. UNICEF has recorded success in using children as agents of change in the home. Children who learn about environmental and hygiene issues at school don’t keep this new knowledge to themselves. Instead, they bring their lessons home, sharing them with their own families and communities, letting what they’ve learned inform their lives, and in so doing transforming the lives of those far removed from the school-yard.