This article appeared in our July 2012 newsletter. It describes the Clean Water Curriculum, the first module of lessons teaching Congolese youth at Centre Salisa to become student leaders Many of us have had the experience of meaningful education, learning something that is truly practical and useful in our every day lives. Real world learning can drive home meaning in ways that book learning cannot. And when that real world learning is linked to something we use every day and can improve and perhaps even save lives? Even better.
As part of Giving Back to Africa’s 5-year commitment to Centre Salisa the teachers and students at the Centre are experiencing a form of learning that is linking their education directly to the needs of their families and the larger community that they live in. The project that kicked off this groundbreaking approach to learning is The Clean Water Project. As part of GBA’s new curriculum for leadership development, The Clean Water Project was initiated this spring with two teacher training programs—one on the philosophy and purpose of community-based education and the other on the clean water curriculum.
The students and teachers at Centre Salisa needed to go no further than their front doors to find material for their curriculum. Imagine waking up each morning and not knowing if you will be able to find clean, safe water. Many people in Mpasa II face this sobering reality on a daily basis. Mpasa II lacks a water system to supply water to its citizens and features poor water pumps, little water storage and the widespread reuse of household water that has been exposed to infectious contamination. Outside lesson plans were not necessary—the teachers themselves designed and implemented a curriculum around the critical subject of clean water based on the issues they knew intimately. The project started by focusing on sources of clean water, the routing of water, hygiene, use and care of water. Students enjoyed classes on using water for hygiene, cooking and maintaining a clean and safe environment for water and for the benefit of the community. Next, the students learned the science and skills needed to prevent waterborne disease. Eager to connect what they were learning at the Centre with their daily lives, the students designed and built a hand-washing device in order to demonstrate water purity and good hand-washing techniques. In two days of direct outreach the students reached over 200 people with this valuable information.
Additional reports from the project include teachers who have influenced behaviors in their own households, and a mother of a 6th grade student who sent a letter to the school noting that her daughter has caused the family to change its hand-washing practices. Students met with elders in their community for discussions about water and are taking care of the wells and water points close to them by cleaning them regularly. A colorful mural designed by the students now hangs on the wall at the Centre marking all wells and river sources of water used by the community. Contributions were also coordinated in order to buy effective cleaning supplies and build additional wells in the Mpasa II community.
GBA leveraged local resources by partnering with organizations such as Rivers of the World to expand the reach of the Clean Water Project. The well in Mpasa II that was closest to Centre Salisa had been broken for a year, resulting in a 3-mile round trip on foot to the nearest water source. The well was repaired with the help of Rivers of the World, and a local church helped to dig two more wells in Mpasa II.
The impact of the clean water curriculum has been unexpectedly wide. Parents in Mpasa II often do not see the value of education for their children and as a result large numbers of children are not sent to school. Yet when a parent hears their child sharing knowledge about staying healthy and the importance of clean water the parent can tie the child’s education to the family’s daily life. Other side benefits of the community service water projects were boosts to the children’s self-esteem, and the practical application of the 5 leadership skills the students have learned during their time at Centre Salisa.
The final link in the clean water project chain was a public “fete de presentation” by the students through song, art, skits and a “Clean Water Café.” Over 400 people from the Mpasa community enjoyed the presentation including representatives from the Ministry of Health.
The students and teachers know that water really is life, but they also proved that together people and water can provide a means to life-saving education and understanding.