Monday, November 22, 2010

Riverdale High School- Wow! Lots of great ideas!

H2O for Life received a wonderful letter from Ms. Laurie LePore and her students at Riverdale High School.  The students have completed many wonderful activities to raise awareness about the water crisis, study the issues, and they have taken ACTION to bring water to schools in need around the world.  Take a look at the great ideas, and the inspirational learning that has taken place at their school.  Congratulations to Riverdale High School for 3 years of fantastic service learning with H2O for Life.

Riverdale High School

Portland, Oregon
H2O
FALL 2010

Riverdale’s connection to H2O for Life began in September of 2008 as a science and service learning elective called H2O. The 12-week course included studying a wide range of student-generated water-related topics and raising money to benefit a school in Kenya in need of a clean, constant water supply. Riverdale continued the elective class in 2010 and the money fundraised will benefit Ruhaama Primary School in Uganda.

H2O 2010

Portland Fountain Walk

Field Trip



Our Fundraisers:


“Aqua Palooza” Halloween Dance- The H2O class had a “Dance Committee” that met every week to plan the dance,“Aqua Palooza.” Since the dance was close to Halloween, the committee opted to make the theme Halloween and to encourage Halloween costumes. The committee was able to plan a very successful dance while coming in under budget and raising over $2,100 towards the goal of $5,000. Many people in the Riverdale student body attended the dance in costume to support Ruhaama P.S. Student Scott Hall donated his time to DJ the event.

Microbe Sale- The “Microbe Committee” advertised and sold Plush Microbes to parents, teachers, and students. Sales of waterborne pathogens included giardia and Vibrio cholerae. These stuffed microbes have become a popular item to have and collect, and they made great gifts.



“Krispy Delivery”- The Krispy Kreme Committee sold Krispy doughnuts on two occasions for an impressive profit. The doughnuts sale was a huge success at parent-teacher conferences. After learning about the cause, many parents purchased the “Krispy-Kreme-o-grams” to send to their children in class. This treat and a note of good luck was sold during finals week to be sent from student to student.




H2O for Life Shirts- The “T-Shirt Committee” sold H2O for Life T-shirts and sweatshirts. Students and teachers purchased the shirts before school, at lunch, and after school. Parents were able to purchase a t-shirt or two at school functions. Along with the H2O for Life logo on the front, our shirts are personalized on the back with “Riverdale High School, Portland, Oregon” and the four schools we have supported:

Viragoni Nursery School, Kenya 2008

Kabuling Day Care Center, Phillipines 2009

Kyentama Primary School, Uganda 2010

Ruhaama Primary School, Uganda 2010





Our Field Trips:


Portland Fountain Walk- Students took a field trip to downtown Portland to explore numerous fountains while logging in approximately 5 miles. Each of the 12 fountains we visited had a rich history involving their functionality to the City of Portland and an intriguing artistic design. While downtown we also saw THE DEEP SEA IMAX at OMSI and ate lunch at one of the food cart parking lots.





Bull Run Reservoir- The Portland Water Bureau led our class on an exclusive private tour of Portland’s main water source, Bull Run Reservoir. Students were thrilled to be invited inside of the humongous dam that holds back our city’s water supply. We pulled water samples and ran some of the water quality tests that people at Bull Run Reservoir run multiple times everyday to ensure Portland has a clean and constant water supply.





Our Class:
Water Projects- Each student chose a water related topic to research. Students were responsible for planning and presenting their findings to the class in an informative and creative way. Students took a diverse approach using different educational strategies including activities and games. These student-led lessons often included PowerPoint presentations, articles in the news, debates, art projects, and labs. Topics included hypoxia, blue holes, fishing practices, bottled water, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Students were encouraged to look at the topic of water from a biological, chemical, economical, and ecological perspective.







FLOW- The class watched the documentary For the Love Of Water (FLOW). The film explores the question, “Should people, corporations, or governments own water resources?” It focuses on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water group.

Our Pen Pals:

Each student wrote a letter and sent pictures to pen pals at Ruhaama Primary School. We introduced ourselves and described our personal lives, Riverdale High School, and the geography of Portland, Oregon. Riverdale students will soon receive letters from students at Ruhaama. Many students plan on maintaining a pen pal relationship with their new friends in Uganda.

Our School:
Riverdale High School is located in South West Portland. In the 2010-2011 school year, Riverdale High School has a student body of 230 in grades 9 through 12. The mission statement of Riverdale High School is to “Teach students to be thoughtful in their education, about each other, and for their community.”



Thursday, November 11, 2010



Skype with Alexandra the "Explorer"

Alexandra Cousteau has been covering the country in search of great stories about WATER.  As a National Geographic sponsored tour, Blue Legacy has spent the last 5 months, visiting interesting water sources, environmental areas of concern and has interviewed, filmed and searched for great water stories.  One of their stories was "H2O for Life".  As a follow-up activity, Ms. Cousteau is conducting several SKYPE calls with H2O for Life Schools around the country.  Sedgwick Middle School will be on the call on November 15th.  We hope to receive photos and an update from Sedgwick after the call to share with all of you.
Remember, every penny raised by H2O for Life Schools helps bring water, sanitation and hygiene education to students in need around the world.  A drop in the bucket creates a ripple AND a wave!  If you haven't chosen a partner school for this year, visit our partner school list and choose today.  We need your help to change lives around the world by providing a "basic human right"- WATER.

Read the note below from  a teacher at Sedgwick.
Hi everyone,


Due to the overwhelming success of Student CAST’s water fundraiser, and the students’ innovative approach to raising awareness, H2O For Life Schools (www.h2oforlifeschoools.org), has recommended our students to participate in a very special event. On Monday, November 15, Student CAST members from Sedgwick and Conard will take part in an online discussion with Alexandra Cousteau, Founder and President of Blue Legacy International (http://www.alexandracousteau.org/), and grand-daughter of legendary diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The online meeting between Ms. Cousteau and the students will focus on water scarcity, environmental challenges, research into solutions, and how to be an effective advocate for environmental causes.

The students’10-day campaign brought in nearly $2,400 and, combined with money from Sedgwick’s own fundraiser, helped to build rainwater collection tanks, latrines, and fund hygiene lessons for the children at the Cheleget Primary School. Attached is a picture of the 60’ poster the kids constructed in the cafeteria and of the rainwater collection tank that has been built with the money they helped raise.

The online interview, via SKYPE, will take place on Monday, November 15 from 3:30-4:30 in Room 216.

Thursday, October 28, 2010




Irondale High School Global Hand Washing Day

To recognize Global Hand Washing Day on October 15th, students from Irondale High School in Minnesota planned an event to raise awareness about the need to wash hands around the world- including before lunch at Irondale! The following report was submitted to H2O for Life from student Hannah Eschenauer.  You too can let us know what your school is doing!  Send photos and a word document.  We'll feature you on our blogsite.

Irondale High School Global Hand Washing Day Report


For Global Hand Washing Day, Irondale decided to cooperate with the Minnesota Department of Health. Members of the Irondale volunteer club helped with running the hand washing station. The station had a box with a hole on top, a hole on one of the sides, and with two black lights inside the box. The students would get some special lotion that glowed in the black light and spread it all over their hands. This lotion would be their pretend “germs.” After putting on the lotion, they would put their hands through the side hole of the box, look through the top hole of the box, gaze in and see their hands and the pretend “germs” on them. After this, we would ask them to go wash their hands. Next they would come back and see how well they washed their hands. They would put their hands back into the box and see that the parts that were still glowing on their hands are the places that they didn’t wash well enough.

This was done at lunch because first of all, it was the best time during the day and second, the students don’t wash their hands before lunch because they want to get in line right away to get their food. Many of the students were surprised at how there were still germs on their hands after washing with both soap and water. We told them that it wasn’t just soap and water, but it was also the amount of time that they washed that mattered. Most of the time, it was in between the fingers and the nails that still had lotion/germs on it. The Minnesota Department of Health provided free nail scrubbers for the people that tried it. The teachers even tried it and that was fun to watch. The science teachers loved it and thought it was very interesting. In all it went really well because it was an interesting idea and also a fun way to see how well you washed your hands. A lot of people tried it out.

Thanks Hannah and Irondale for sharing your story.  Irondale was entered in the contest drawing to win a free "Flip" video camera- but- they weren't the winners.  Try again during our next contest!

Monday, October 18, 2010

World Record for Global Handwashing Day!

Last Friday, our partner in Nairobi, IkoToilets worked to gather huge numbers of students to participate in Global Handwashing Day.  Over 19,000 students came together to wash their hands.  Handwashing is essential to combat disease for all of us.  In  developing countries there is a provide to supply handwashing stations at schools with soap and water.  Schools also are educating youth about the need to wash hands and hopefully the lesson will go home with children to their families.  Education can change behavior!  Take a look at the youtube video celebrating the day in Nairobi.

Sunday, October 17, 2010





Bathroom Pass

Access to sanitation is a huge problem around the world.  Over 2 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation and handwashing facilities.  The millenium development goals are targeting sanitation, but sadly, we are far behind in reaching the set goal to provide sanitation to areas of need around the world by 2015.

H2O for Life and many other organizations are working hard to raise awareness of the need for clean water, sanitation and hygiene education- and our focus is SCHOOLS!  We truly believe that if we can help provide these necessary facilities, and the education to teach students essential hygiene skills, communities will change for the better.  Studies show that children bring lessons home to their families.  Students are great teachers and can change their families and communities over time. Changing lives at ONE school does make a difference and you can help.

Last week, WASH in Schools was the focus of many meetings in Washington DC.  Global Handwashing Day was celebrated on Friday.  At the Academy for Educationl Development in DC, there was a wonderful photo display called the "Bathroom Pass". The photo and video display documented facilities available in 4 typical schools around the world. One school highlighted was Abington High School located in Abington, PA.

H2O for Life student "Nathan" was asked to photograph and provide a video about facilities located in their school.  Nathan was surprised and thrilled to see a "bigger than life" photo of himself in his H2O for Life shirt.  Nathan has been a member of Abington's H2O for Life club for the past several years.  He and others at Abington have raised funds to bring water, sanitation and hygiene education to schools in Mali, India, Nicaragua, and are currently focusing on a school in South Africa.  Thanks Abington!

The display in DC will be open to the public through November 19th. If you have the opportunity to visit the Academy of Educational Development, please visit the display. It is wonderful and informative. H2O for Life then hopes to be able to post the photos and videos from the display online for all to see.

We are posting photos of students from HB Woodlawn School from Arlington Virginia, and Abington High School as they visited the "Bathroom Pass" on Global Handwashing Day.  Students learned several engaging educational lessons provided by "Project Wet" and H2O for Life that they will bring back to their schools and communities.

We welcome photos and stories from you!  Let us know what your school is doing to help support the global water crisis.  We'll post photos and comments.  Also be sure to visit our facebook page and become a fan.

As always, everything you do affects the world.  Do something GREAT!

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Raising Clean Hands" Our mission- Wash in Schools

Today is Global Handwashing Day.  We have challenged schools across America to plan an event to raise awareness about handwashing, and the lack of facilities in schools around the world.  H2O for Life Schools support WASH in Schools programs by partnering with a school in a developing country that desperately needs water, sanitation and hygiene education.  Students learn about the global water crisis while TAKING ACTION to do something- raise funds- to support their partner school.  We are teaching a generation of students to "think" about water and how we must all work to keep this precious resource protected.

Support for WASH in Schools is growing daily.  Join the movement today!

Read part of the speech delivered at the Academy for Educational Development on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
As Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I have worked over the past year to elevate two initiatives at Secretary Clinton’s request: water and youth.

Fortunately, today gives me an opportunity to talk about both: the importance of providing water, sanitation, and hygiene education – and the significance of starting early. We must teach our children—our future—to be better stewards of our world’s water and better caretakers of their own health.


No matter where you live—be it Boston or Bamako—schools are the foundation of strong communities. They are, of course, a place where teachers teach and children learn. But they are also a place where community health workers deliver life-saving messages and medicines. They are a place where adults gather in the evening for continuing education and town hall meetings. And they are a place where people come to vote and young democracies flourish.

It is a tragic irony that those who go to schools to learn, congregate, and protect their health, are often put at risk from the school environment itself.

The problem is clear. More than half of all primary schools in developing countries do not have adequate water facilities and nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation. Even where facilities exist, they are often in poor condition.

The consequences are threefold. First, health suffers. Schools can—and often do—become a breeding ground for diarrhea, parasitic worms, and other water-borne ailments. The World Health Organization estimates that diarrhea causes 1.5 million deaths per year; many resulting from transmission in schools.

Furthermore, schools without WASH facilities represent a lost opportunity to promote good hygiene behavior in the larger community. Data suggests that students who practice good hygiene in schools also help teach good hygiene practices to their parents, siblings, and friends.


Second, education suffers. Worm infestations can lower children’s IQ scores. Studies show that students are more prone to missing lessons in schools without WASH facilities. Such trends can have devastating long-term costs for students, communities and nations, virtually closing doors to opportunity.

Third, women and girls suffer disproportionately. Female school staff and girls who have reached puberty are less likely to attend schools that lack gender specific sanitation facilities. As we increasingly recognize the contribution of women to household income, health, education, and nutritional outcomes, nations simply cannot afford a lag in women’s education and literacy.

The bottom line is this: If we are serious about improving child health, achieving universal primary education, ensuring gender equity, and stimulating economic development, we need to be serious about providing safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education in schools.


Schools, organizations, churches and individuals can join us in our mission to bring water to schools.  Help raise awareness of the issues in your community, and make a donation today to a group that is working to bring water to schools.


 We must ensure that WASH is incorporated in school curriculum and teacher training to complement the infrastructure with appropriate hygiene and sanitation messages and skill-building.
I would just close by pointing out that this Friday, October 15, the world will commemorate Global Handwashing Day. On this day, educators in countries around the globe will be showing their students how to wash their hands. It sounds simple to an audience that is accustomed to automatic faucets. But sadly, hundreds of millions of children will not be able to practice their handwashing lessons at school.

This is where we all can make a difference".

You can make a difference today!  Schools, organizations, churches and individuals must talk about the water crisis to make people aware of the issues, and TAKE ACTION.  Partner with a school in need and donate to an organization that is working to bring WASH programs to schools.  Working together will solve the global water crisis.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Children Should Carry Books, Not Water

Recently, Nathan Strauss, an H2O for Life students was honored at an event in Washington DC for his efforts to bring water, sanitation and hygiene education to schools around the world. 

Story submitted by John Sauer, Water Advocates                              

U.S. Raising Clean Hands Campaign Launched:

 WASH (WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene) Is Essential to Achieve Universal Education

October 13, (Washington, DC) – Nathan Strauss, 17, a student at Abington Senior High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is part of a growing movement of America’s youth who are stepping up to make a change in the lives of the students around the world who are carrying water and not books.

Even for those children that have the opportunity to go to school, students lose 443 million school days each year due to diseases associated with the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Repeated episodes of diarrhea and worm infestations diminish a child’s ability to learn and impair cognitive development. This problem is exacerbated by the more than half of all schools in developing countries that lack adequate WASH facilities.

“I had no idea of the magnitude of the issue and I was shocked to find out the severity of the crisis and the number of students like me across the world that still don’t even have a toilet at their school. Doing something about this has become a really big deal for me,” said Nathan Strauss. “I think America’s youth has great potential to do something about this problem; if everyone gets taught the issue, we can all help. Imagine if all the students in America were a part of this; the change would be enormous,” he continued.

Nathan is not alone. Nearly 30 organizations launched a campaign in the United States today at an event at AED to demonstrate that providing water, sanitation and hygiene education in schools globally can help solve the WASH and education challenge around the world. Through this campaign, and an exhibit called “Bathroom Pass,” these organizations highlight the solutions they are currently implementing and urge the U.S. Government, the World Bank, and other actors in the education and health sectors to bring WASH to schools in the developing world.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero stressed, “The bottom line is this: if we are serious about improving child health, achieving universal primary education, ensuring gender equity and stimulating economic development, we need to be serious about providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.” She emphasized the important role of students, like Nathan, to participate in service learning projects that help them engage in concrete actions to help others around the world. Earlier this year on World Water Day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized that global water issues would be a priority for the U.S. Government.

Other speakers who highlighted the need to act included Carol Bellamy (Education for All - Fast Track Initiative), Clarissa Brocklehurst (UNICEF), Jack Downey (AED) and Denise Knight (The Coca-Cola Company). Jon Hamilton of NPR served as the moderator.

Nathan took action by helping to start a club through H2O for Life to raise funds to help schools in developing countries; the money is used to improve access to clean water, build toilets and handwashing stations, and provide hygiene education. So far 120,000 students across the U.S. have participated in H2O for Life service learning programs. Nathan’s story is highlighted in the “Bathroom Pass” exhibit, as are the stories of three students from Honduras, Madagascar and Nepal.

As a part of this campaign the organizers are challenging you to:

• Live for one day on the global minimum standard for water—approximately 5 gallons per person per day for drinking, cooking and bathing.

• Wash your hands at critical times: after using the toilet and before preparing food or eating.

• Start an H2O for Life club at your school like Nathan and his classmates did. Visit http://www.h2oforlifeschools.org/

The launch of this campaign is timed to coincide with the week of Global Handwashing Day, October 15, when 200 million children, parents, teachers, celebrities and citizens in over 80 countries are raising attention for handwashing and for WASH in Schools. Visit http://www.globalhandwashingday.org/

We invite schools in the US, and other Nations around the world to join H2O for Life in our mission to bring water, sanitation and hygiene education to schools.  Mobilize your school or organization and Make a Difference!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Students make a "Splash" on the Hill in DC

Yesterday, October 6th, students from HB Woodlawn School in Arlington, VA visited and spoke to leaders on Capitol Hill. Teacher Cecilia Allen and students Mary Shields and Delaney Steffan were invited to share their views on WASH in Schools programs.

Here is a portion of the article written by Christina Maria Paschyn, published on October 7, 2010.

Washington, D.C. - Experts and advocates from humanitarian organizations stressed the need to provide adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and instruction for school children in the developing world at a congressional briefing yesterday.

Two out of three schools in the developing world lack decent toilets, according to UNICEF. The World Heath Organization estimates that 272 million school days are lost each year due to diarrhea and some 400 million school-aged children worldwide have worms.

Pamela Young, a senior basic education advisor for Plan, explained how water, sanitation and hygiene facilities (such as latrines and hand washing stations) are vital in schools for increasing classroom attendance and learning.

H2O for Life students had a chance to speak as well.
"As students in Arlington, Virginia, we know that we lead very privileged lives and that there's no way to compare our lives to those of children in much of the developing world," said high school junior Mary Shields, who described how she first realized the importance of WASH while working in a remote hospital in Rwanda. "I personally witnessed the birth of a child in 2010 in Rwanda who went home form the hospital to face the challenges that come from living in an area without access to clean water."

"I find it appalling that girls my age have to stop going to school when they reach puberty because they lack acces to adequate sanitation," she added. "It is unacceptable that children arrive into the world in this day and age without acces to clean water" Through various fundraisers, Shields and her class raised money for WASH programs for school children in Cameroon.

It's wonderful, and essential that schools across the US take on big challenges! The youth in our country are passionate and willing to work on issues that they care about. It is our job as teachers, parents, and leaders to raise awareness about important issues and allow our youth to be part of the solution! Thank you HB Woodlawn for your past and future work!

To view the entire interview and see the videos, visit:
http://pulitzercenter.org/blog/news-points/water-sanitation-hygiene-children-developing-countries



Wednesday, October 6, 2010


H2O for Life-Off to a fantastic fall!

Where did the summer go? By now we are all back into the fun and frenzy of the school year. Many schools have already chosen their WASH in Schools partner for the year, but if you haven't, now is the time! Please see our list of available schools.
There are many exciting events on the horizon. Keep checking back to our blog so that you don't miss any of them. Also, join and visit our H2O for Life Fan page on Facebook.
As for exciting events? Today, Oct. 6, two young ladies from H.B. Woodlawn School in Arlington, VA spoke to a Congressional meeting on Capitol Hill. They spoke about their school project in Cameroon, and how it affected their own school and their lives. Teacher, Cecilia Allen, accompanied the girls to the event. It's another example of how engagement in a meaningful service learning activity can lead to exciting learning opportunities! Way to go girls!
Next week, Oct. 15, in Washington DC, Abington High School, PA and H.B. Woodlawn, VA will be presenting activities at a youth engagement event being sponsored by the Academy of Educational Development, and Water Advocates. H2O for Life and Project Wet will be providing curricular connections and activities for DC students attending the event. There will be a photo and video display of sanitation around the world. (including the sanitation of a local US school to show the contrast between our schools and schools in developing countries) The display will be ongoing for the month of October.
Global Handwashing Day will be celebrated on Friday, October 15. H2O for Life is hosting a contest for all interested schools. Plan an event, activity or celebration for Global Handwashing Day and send us a photo of your students in action. One lucky school will receive a flip video camera. To enter, send us a photo and your school will be entered in a drawing for the flip camera. Show students washing hands, designing posters- whatever event helps raise awareness!
A little further down the road, November 19, we celebrate World Toilet Day. Check out world toilet day activities online. Think about it! Two Billion People are standing in line.
If you are looking for even more information on WATER for your classroom, National Geographic has recently launched a curriculum based around water. Check their website at www.natgeo.com, click environment and it will lead you to "Freshwater". There are great lesson plans, videos and a variety of information at your fingertips.
H2O for Life is working with several organizations to plan a nation-wide Walk for Water in the spring. No matter what your school is doing this year for your water project, save room and time to add a "walk for water". Watch for our connecting activities and ideas with Youth Service America, (www.ysa.org) the National Youth Leadership Council(www.nylc.org) and others as we join forces to raise awareness and funds for the global clean water crisis.
Remember, it only takes a single drop to create a ripple. Lets turn a ripple into a wave of water! We need your help. Join H2O for Life Schools today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Students in Nicaragua celebrate their new latrines!


Service Learning and Stem- Engaging Students to Learn

Wow! Can you believe that summer is almost over? For those of us that live in Minnesota, the Minnesota STATE FAIR signals the end of summer and the start of a new school year. The Fair also has the greatest selection of everything on a stick! It is not for those that are interested in "healthy" food. I must admit, that I savored the corn dog, and dabbled a little with the french fries and cheese curds. It was great! I visited the State Fair on "STEM Education" day. There were many local groups in attendance, promoting STEM based activities. There is quite a buzz around the country that is focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. (STEM) The need for students to take a good look at career fields in these areas is critical. How do we as teachers keep students interested? Studies have shown that girls and at-risk students are highly under represented in the STEM career fields. I have one suggestion. We need to provide Relevancy and Engagement. Girls in particular are easily turned off to the sciences and math- maybe because they don't see how these careers can "make a difference"- an emotional and passionate difference- in the world. At-risk students often lack role models and support to direct them to studies in STEM. We need to provide opportunities for all students to engage in relevant, meaningful activities that tie curricular lessons to the world around us. A student recently told me that in his Chemistry class, they hadn't completed one hands on experience after 6 weeks in the class! Amazing, and sad- opportunity missed. Predictions point to the fact that there will be many career opportunities available surrounding the issues of water. In our new "H2O for Life Tool Kit" we have added curricular connections for teachers to use in classrooms. As the year progresses, we hope that you will send us the great ideas that you are using in your classrooms to teach students about water. Sharing ideas and resources will help all of us provide students with a rich and meaningful educational experience. Once your students are "hooked on water", the global giving increases the passion and the relevancy. Twenty years from now, we hope they remember that they helped students around the world have access to water!



We hope you have chosen a global school partner for your school. If you haven't, it is never too late! Through-out the school year, as you are looking for that one great project for your class- we know that H2O for Life is it! Check out the Generator School Network at nylc.org, and the Semester of Service information coming soon on YSA.org. H2O for Life will be working closely with these two wonderful service-learning organizations. If you have never participated in a service learning activity, now is the time. Find out why many teachers through-out the United States are excited about Service-Learning. We can help you get started. Email us with questions, or please call and talk to one of our staff. We're here to help! Check out the list of available school partners. We need your help to bring WASH projects to schools. Can we count on you?

Monday, July 5, 2010



Traveling with the Blue Legacy Expedition

Today I have the opportunity to jump on the National Geographic Expedition bus and join Blue Legacy as they leave Minnesota to head to Colorado. The crew with Alexandra Cousteau as the Nat Geo Expedition leader, spent Saturday and Sunday in the Twin Cities interviewing water groups and attending a special tour of the Minnesota Twins Stadium. The Twins Stadium has a fabulous water saving system in place developed by Pentair. Pentair has provide a system that recycles and reuses the water once cleaned. The water is used to clean the stadium, and water the fields, cutting traditional water usage by at least 50%. Quite amazing and innovative! Our thanks to Kevin Smith of the Twins, and Todd Gleason from Pentair for leading the tour on a beautiful Saturday in July! We know how precious these Saturdays are.

Ms. Cousteau also took the time to interview several of our H2O for Life Schools. Students and teachers had an opportunity to tell her about their school projects. There were many wonderful displays.

On Saturday, July 4, H2O for Life attended an event hosted by Blue Legacy at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis. We invited families to make a table top aquifer (the pdf will be available online for a fall science project) and we also provided a World Cup Toilet Bowl event where people tried to kick a soccer ball through a toilet seat. The prize? A photo seated on our PINK toilet seat! We had a few winners. It was not an easy task. Our goal was to remind people that over 2 billion people in the United States don't have access to adequate sanitation.

So.... TodayI had the chance to chat with the photographers, the vidiographers, the sound guy, the production crew and Alexandra Cousteau. They are all amazing and have wonderful stories to tell. I feel very lucky to be able to participate in this wonderful event. The crew includes people from Australia, France, Montana, Oklahoma, DC and New York- and one Minnesotan! We had a great time visiting on the bus. Actually, they all worked hard all day, while I visited!

We are parked for the evening in Kearney, Nebraska. Following a relaxing dinner, several of the crew were back at work, and others like me are on our way to bed. Tomorrow morning, we'll head to Denver where I will exit the bus while they continue to several days of filming in Boulder, CO. H2O for Life hopes to reconnect with Blue Legacy during their 135 day journey through another visit or two, and we also hope to connect some of our schools with Alexandra through Skype to conduct online video opportunities. If you wish to participate, contact m,H2O for Life and we'll work to set this up for your school. (info@h2oforlifeschools.org)
Also, remember, It is time to choose a school partner in a developing country for your next year's H2O for Life project. We hope you are having a wonderful summer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

South Africa after the fact!


Our last several days in South Africa were a whirlwind. We had a meeting with our partner organizations in South Africa, and toured with Mr. Jonathan Timm of Mvula Trust Organization. He introduced us to an informal settlement area where the need for water, sanitation and hygiene is greatly needed. We visited a Creche- a day care within the settlement area. It is very small, and often provides daycare for 100 children. The children greeted us with beautiful smiles, and all were proud of the fact that it was "Bafana, Bafana day- they had on shirts in support of the team. The vuvuzelas could be heard through-out the area. (loud horns with a buzzing sound) One latrine was available for all to use. Unimaginable! Mvula hopes to bring a pipe into the area to remove the sewage, and provide more water points for the over 15,000 people that live in the area. We hope to be able to help at the day care/pre-school by providing better WASH services. (If you want to help, your donation is greatly appreciated!)



We watched the South Africa/Mexico opening game in a huge "Fan Park" located near our hotel. There were thousands of fans in attendance, and they were very enthusiastic about their South African team. It was fun to share in the excitement of the fans through-out the game. I think most South Africans were ok with a tie, as Mexico was the favored team. The celebration continued to the wee hours of the morning and long after I went to bed the vuvuzelas were still in action. Rumor has it that FIFA is thinking of banning the horns from upcoming games. We'll have to wait to see if that happens.


South Africa is welcoming country, with a rich mixture of people and places to visit. I hope to return and spend time in the rural areas in the future.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bafana, Bafana (Boys!Boys!)

Everywhere we go in Johannesburg we hear "Bafana, Bafana"! It means, boys, boys and is used in support of the South African Football Team. (The WORLD CUP SOCCER tournament) People are sporting the gold and green team colors, and blasting on their vuvuzelas (highly obnoxioius horns) The excitement is high for the opening game on Friday.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit a school in a nearby township. The townships were the relocation areas designated for blacks during Apartheid, and although the laws have changed, the poverty and lack of services to these areas still exists. The area of Katalhong is quite large, and the school houses over 1,000 students. A recent project in conjunction with the RAIN Foundation and the South African Department of Education provided piped water and a tank to a block of toilets and hand-washing sinks in a beautiful brick building. There are 8 stalls for girls and 5 stalls for boys plus a urinal area. The facility is a vast improvement for the children and is greatly appreciated. The school also received a water stand-point located on the school grounds. Students now have water to drink at school rather than walking blocks away in the development to reach a common drinking station shared by many, many people. As always, the children were smiling, singing, and wanted us to take their photos.

After visiting the school, we stopped for several hours at the Apartheid Museum. The museum is breath-taking and emotionally draining. The story of Nelson Mandela is told through photos, video clips and quotes from his inspirational speeches. He is truly a great man. He is expected to attend the opening soccer game between South Africa and Mexico on Friday. The people hope he brings them good luck.

We visited a squatters community today. The homes are shacks made of tin and whatever else can be found to pound together. None of the homes have electricity, and very few have access to water other than shared water points placed few and far between. In 2008, the government did provide VIP Pit latrines for every plot of land- the hope is that within the next few years, the houses will be replaced and water and electricity will be available to most. There is not a school close by, which creates problems for many of the children. The "house" we visited consisted of 2 very small rooms for a family of 7.

We moved on to visit Soweto (the name stands for South Western Township). It is the early home of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the center for the uprising's of people fighting Apartheid. The area has undergone vast improvements for the World Cup Games -or so we were told. There were many craft booths lining the streets, and many international visitors.

From Soweto, we headed to the 2 year old African Leadership Academy. 179 students from around Africa are chosen to attend the two year program- (similar to the last 2 years of high school in the US). The students represent 38 out of 54 African countries. We were fortunate to have Estella, a 19 year old young lady from Cameroon, take us on a guided tour of the campus. We have a video interview with her that we hope we can share on facebook and our video page next week. We also met a young man, Chernoh, from Sierra Leone. At the age of 13, he wrote a proposal to his government and succeeded to convince them that his school needed water! These young people are amazing. One goal of the Academy is to encourage development of skills needed to be the future leaders of Africa. After meeting Estrella and Chernoh, I think they will succeed!

Tomorrow we meet with our South African Partnerships to discuss plans to help fund 100 school WASH in School projects for South Africa as a lasting Legacy of the World Cup. We know that our H2O for Life Schools can help bring the projects to fruition while forming relationships between students around the world.

Keep in mind, that our youth is the future!

Go USA in the World Cup!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hello from South Africa,
After a long flight-21 hours in the air- we arrived to the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, South Africa. The World Cup Soccer Matches will begin on June 11. Our purpose for this visit is to connect with the RAIN Foundation and the Department of Education of South Africa, to be part of a plan to bring WASH in Schools to 100 schools in SA in honor of the World Cup Event. H2O for Life is thrilled to have the opportunity to connect students in the US with students in South Africa as part of our role in these projects. (Each school project will require $2000 per school in H2O for Life School partnerships- total cost of each project will be around $40,000 per school- we have highly leveraged funds!) The RAIN foundation and the Government of South Africa value the student to student connection, and we do too)

We are currently spending time near the Limpopo District. We hope to visit several schools, and take in some of the local sights.

We hope to have more information as the week progresses, and we also hope to be able to share interesting facts about South Africa and the World Cup.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Visit to South Africa

Tomorrow, June 3, Val Johnson and I leave for Johannesburg, South Africa to meet with the RAIN Foundation, Global Water Challenge, Coca-Cola Africa and the Department of Education for South Africa. In conjunction with the World Cup Soccer Tournament, our groups are working together to fund water, sanitation and hygiene for 100 schools in South Africa over the next 3 years. It is a fabulous opportunity for H2O for Life Schools. Each school is targeted to receive approximately a $40,000 intervention to improve the water source, provide toilets and sanitaton, and implement hygiene education curriculum and hand-washing stations. H2O for Life is being asked to contribute $2000 per school! That is phenomenal. We hope to facilitate pen-pal connections, photo exchanges and other activities to provide student to student connections. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor of this wonderful initiative, and choose a school partner in South Africa for next school year.

We will post photos of schools, and other interesting sites that we visit while in South Africa on this exploratory trip.

We hope all of you enjoy what is left of the school year, and as they say in South Africa- Cheers!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Webinar

Update: May 5, 2010
Today H2O for Life participated in a Webinar presentation from the National Youth Leadership Council headquarters in Minnesota. H2O for Life President, Patty Hall, was joined by students Obi Obikwelu, Lauren Johnson, Drew Tangren, and teacher Laurie Tangren to share experiences about their service learning projects. If you were not able to join us live, please visit: www.nylc.org and their Generator School Network for more information.
During the summer months, H2O for Life in conjunction with National Geographic is working to design specific “water” curriculum. We would like to hear from you! What topics interest you? We would welcome your feedback. Contact us at: info@h2oforlifeschools.org

Thursday, April 15, 2010

H2O for Life update

H2O for Life has been busy attending educational conferences in the past few weeks. At the National Youth Leadership Council’s conference for Service Learning in San Jose, CA, H2O for Life participated in 5 engaging break- out sessions, and were instrumental in bringing “The Lost Boys of Sudan” to the podium as keynote speakers.
We’d like to thank Waunakee Middle School from WI, and Centennial High School from MN for participating in our first video-conferencing experience. It was great fun to hear from all the students while sitting in San Jose, CA. We also participated in our first Webinar and hope to do more presentations via computer in the future. You can tune in!
Phillipe Cousteau from Earth Echo, Lee Lysne from the Kind World Foundation, S.K. Duffs service learning specialist from Hoboken, Emily Crossette, student from Abington HS and Patty Hall, from H2O for Life spoke on a Thought Leaders Panel about the issues surrounding water. There were many interesting comments!

Last week, H2O for Life attended the National Catholic Education Conference in Minneapolis, MN. We were joined by teacher Mary Burke and Principal Judi Halli from Holy Spirit School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The ladies were articulate and highly entertaining as they enthralled the crowd with stories from their project experiences this past year. (The God Squad, Denim for Digging etc.)

The school year is heading to a close. Remember to organize your events, and help fund your partner school project!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

World Water Day


H2O for Life attended and was among the speakers to address the assembly at the World Water Day Event held in DC on March 22.


US Secretary of State Joins High-level Coalition to Mark World Water Day and Stress Urgency of Ensuring Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries Coalition of nearly 30 organizations from the public and private sectors, including foundations and faith leaders, announce unprecedented call for action to raise awareness and spur stronger commitments to address the global water crisis.


Washington, DC—Today is World Water Day and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States Hattie Babbitt, National Geographic Society Chairman Gil Grosvenor, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and Global Water Challenge Chairman Bill Reilly and other key private-sector, foundation, faith and nongovernmental organization leaders along with Kenna, the Grammy-nominated artist behind Summit on the Summit, to call for immediate action to ensure access to safe, clean water and improved sanitation in the developing world. They convened at “Uniting for Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation,” an event at the National Geographic Society, which kicked off two days of World Water Day activities in Washington, DC.


At a time when one in six people worldwide does not have access to safe drinking water and two in five people lack access to basic sanitation, the water crisis is among the most pressing issues the global community faces—affecting health, child survival, gender equity, education, the environment, poverty and political security. While many factors—climate change, geography, poor water systems, lack of infrastructure and failed policies—have contributed, the fact remains that billions of people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. “In an era of increasing scarcity, ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation for the world’s poor is critical,” said US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global AffairsMaria Otero. “We must understand water’s implications for food security, peace and conflict, particularly in regions of increasing shortage.”


Today, the impact of the global water crisis can be seen most clearly in the women and children of the developing world. Children are the most susceptible to water, sanitation and hygiene-related illness, which factors into nearly all of the major causes of child death, including diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. Beyond the health impact, women and young girls often bear the economic and educational costs, since they are most likely to spend their time collecting and transporting water for their families. Millions of school-age children are also affected, as more than one-half of all primary schools in developing countries do not provide safe water and nearly two-thirds lack basic sanitation.


“We cannot wait to improve access to water and sanitary conditions for future generations,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa, in a video address. “Water and sanitation are fundamental to overall human development and both play a critical role in achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Safe water and sanitation improve health, advance education, reduce poverty and drive economic growth.”“Water is the most pressing issue of our time,” said Gil Grosvenor, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Geographic Society. “It’s time we do something about it with solutions available today.”


In addition to the US government’s efforts, Ed Cain, Vice President of Grant Programs at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Guy Lalibert√©, founder of Cirque du Soleil and ONE DROP, announced new commitments to water and sanitation at the National Geographic event co-hosted by Water Advocates and the National Geographic Society. The event is to be followed by a series of high-level roundtable discussions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They aim to generate strategies to improve water, sanitation and hygiene programs and to increase capacity to address global challenges.


To mark World Water Day 2010, a diverse coalition of nearly 30 US-based organizations came together in two days of activities to raise awareness and call for stronger commitments and more robust action to ensure universal access to safe water and sanitation everywhere they are needed."I have seen first-hand the debilitating issue of the global clean water crisis. The statistics are obvious. Water is interconnected with every major issue that the world faces. It should be the number one focus of everything we do,” said Kenna, musician and philanthropist. “My father almost fell victim to the water crisis when he was born without clean water being available in Ethiopia. If he had died, then I wouldn't be here." Today’s activities will be followed by World Water Advocacy Day on Tuesday, March 23. Advocates from across the country will come together to call on Congress to increase support for sustainable water, sanitation, hygiene and child health programs. Senator John Kerry, Representative Jim McGovern and Mandy Moore, PSI Ambassador, singer-songwriter and actress, will join the effort. The day will include a Congressional briefing, “The Ripple Effect of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene on Global Health and Development,” lead by experts including Alexandra Cousteau, board member, Global Water Challenge; Dr. Greg Allgood, director, Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, P&G; Dr. Merri Weinger, program manager, Hygiene Improvement, USAID Bureau for Global Heath; Dr. Koki Agarwal, director, Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, Jhpiego; and Dr. Eric Mintz, team lead, Global WASH Epidemiology, Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be followed by an attempt to form the world’s longest toilet queue—part of a global effort to raise awareness around the need for safe water and improved sanitation.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

World Water Day

World Water Day is March 22. H2O for Life is invited to Washington DC to speak at a World Water Day event being held at the National Geographic Auditorium, sponsored by Water Advocates. Co-founders Patty Hall and Val Johnson will share the stage with high school senior, Emily Crossette. Emily has been an integral part of the H2O for Life group at Abington High School, PA for the past three years. Emily is also on the H2O for Life student advisory board. She is thrilled to be speaking about her history with H2O for Life. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also be speaking- We are among great company! Support World Water Day- Do something to make a “splash” on WWD.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The American School in London


Below is a summary of what we, The American School in London, have been doing to raise money. It was written by a grade 6 student. This is a picture of the bulletin board where the students wrote down what they did to conserve water.


"Grade six has been saving water for the past two months to raise money for a school in India. We have saved water in many ways including: shortening showers, saving our toilet flushes and turning off the water when brushing our teeth. We recorded all our water savings on charts. We have been doing this to raise money for the Jasola village school, a girl’s school, who don’t have clean water or bathrooms. For every liter we saved we would donate a little money (about a pound) and put it in a water jug. Our plan is to put pipes into the school, which will carry clean water and plumbing so the school can be a better place. In flex class we are studying different problems with water such as water borne disease and water shortages. In our groups we will create public service announcements on our water issues to present at an assembly."
Check out more stories and become a "fan" on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/h2oforlife?ref=mf

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Students perform at MLK/Water for Haiti Performance


Hoboken Charter School- water for Haiti/MLK day

The article below recently appeared in the "Hoboken Patch" newspaper. Mr. S.K. Duff, a teacher at Hoboken Charter School is no stranger to H2O for Life. He and his school have participated for the past 2 years with H2O for Life, raising funds for a school in Kenya last year, and have recently completed fund-raising for a school in Uganda. Hoboken School under the leadership of Mr. Duff, the rest of the wonderful staff, and students takes service learning seriously. They strive to make a difference in many ways in their local community and their global world. Many schools around the country are "digging deep for water" for Haiti, and are also continuing to support chosen projects for other schools in need of water supported by H2O for Life. There is much to be done, but together we can all make our world a wonderful place for EVERYONE!
Please support the efforts in Haiti, but don't lose sight of the fact that there are many schools around the world desperate for water. You can help be the solution!


Editor Claire Moses: clairem@patch.com


Hoboken Community Gathers for MLK Celebration

The event was organized by the Hoboken Charter School, but involved many organizations in the community
By Claire Moses


The students of the Mustard Seed School perform during Monday's celebration of Martin Luther King Day in Hoboken.

All Saints Episcopal Church was jam packed yesterday, as the Hoboken Community celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King during its annual Sing Out For Justice concert.
Hundreds of parents and involved community members attended to listen to the children of the Mustard Seed School, Hoboken Charter School and individual performers.

"We're embracing the diversity of the community in honor of Martin Luther King," said
S.K. Duff, director of service learning at the Hoboken Charter School.
All the proceeds — Starbucks coffee, coffee cake and cookies, and cover charge — went to relief efforts for Haiti. Around 6 p.m. last night, more than $700 was raised.

"This year has a special meaning," said Hoboken Charter High School Principal Ria Grosvenor, "reiterated by the tragedy in Haiti."

Those who attended the concert, which started promptly at 4 p.m. and lasted more than two hours, said this one was the most energetic one to date.
On Friday Hoboken Charter School organized the annual Martin Luther King Day march on Washington Street. This concert formed as the crown on the school's efforts to educate its students on civil rights, community service and diversity, said Duff.
Duff delivered a speech, students from the Mustard Seed School joined in with students from Hoboken Charter School and performed the entrance procession, singing "Sweet Chariot."
Other songs performed were "A Change is Gonna Come," "Heavenly Day," and "I Shall Be Released."

On the sides of the church, which was too crowded to move around in, were tables showcasing the students' work and tables where kids could do activities.

Councilman-at-Large David Mello attended with his wife and daughter.
"I just thought I'd check it out," he said. "It's great."
Members of the Hoboken clergy were also in attendance. Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Hoboken Synagogue stopped by, as well as Reverend Geoffrey Curtiss, president of the All Saints Community and Service Development Corporation.

The constant buzz of playing kids and chatting parents did not make most forget the reason why they came to the event — to celebrate civil rights and a diverse community.
"It's a nice way to celebrate what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for on a complete community level," prinicpal Grosvenor said.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

H2O for Life is proud to partner with Mr. David Kuria. David has devised a new system for "toilets". We are working to fund his system "Iko toilets" for 10 schools located in Kenya. Rotary International is supportive of this project. If your school, or Rotary club would like to get involved and help make this happen, please contact H2O for Life. The story below tells of the sanitation crisis, and what we need to do to help save lives. Changing sanitation in schools makes a huge difference in the lives of children.


Nowhere to go
by Rose George The Rotarian -- January 2010


I n the bustling main street at the entrance to Shanti Nagar, off Mumbai’s western expressway, men in suits go about their business. Women carry containers, hurrying to fill them in the two hours that water comes through the taps.
The shopkeepers and doctors and quacks and barbers do a brisk trade. It looks and sounds like any Indian street – only narrower and darker – and looking in, perhaps you wonder what makes Shanti Nagar a slum. So you turn around and see, on the dusty roadside, as the cars zoom past, a series of little children’s bottoms, perched nakedly and shamelessly in public, defecating with composure. After the children jump up and scamper down the embankment, disappearing back into the slum, you notice that the roadside is dotted with feces, as far down as you can see.

The 4,000 people who live in Shanti Nagar share one community toilet block, with 26 stalls. You’ll have to ask directions if you want to see it, because smell is no guide when the whole place stinks, and when you can easily be lost down the dim passageways, where you stumble clumsily and where kind hands occasionally reach out to guide your head away from an overhanging tin roof, or to move you out of the way of a pile of filth. Shanti Nagar is definitely a slum, because to live in a slum is to live among excrement, and this place has plenty of it.
This may be horrifying, but it is not extreme. In fact, Shanti Nagar’s appalling sanitation is normal. It must be, when 2.6 billion of the world’s people have no sanitation facilities whatsoever, not even a bucket or a box. If they’re lucky, as in slums such as Kibera, Kenya, they might have a plastic bag to defecate into, which they then tie and throw (hence the nickname “helicopter toilets”). That’s a luxury. But 4 in 10 of the planet’s people have no private or hygienic facilities to do their business in.

Driving through the Indian countryside at dusk – through settlements with decent enough houses, functioning shops, and cell phone kiosks everywhere – you can see, on leaving a village, people squatting on the side of the road, clasping a lota (water vessel) with which to cleanse themselves. Elderly women try to hold their saris over their private parts while simultaneously covering their faces. “Ten years ago,” says Indian sanitation activist Joe Madiath, “she would have jumped up at every passing car. Now there are too many. She can’t be up and down like a yo-yo.”

Weapon of mass destruction
Why does it matter? It’s not simply a dereliction of dignity. Human waste is a highly efficient weapon of mass destruction. Feces can carry 50 communicable diseases, including cholera, hepatitis, and schistosomiasis. Where people have poor or no sanitation, human excrement gets tramped into living environments on people’s feet and carried in on fingers. It finds its way into food and drink, with desperate consequences. Diarrhea – 90 percent of which is caused by contaminated food or water – kills up to two million people a year, most of them children. It kills more children under five than AIDS, tuberculosis, or malaria. In graphic terms, diarrhea’s death toll is equivalent to two jumbo jets full of children dying every four hours, or one child every 15 seconds. Several have died in the time it has taken you to read this far. Read that sentence again, and there’s another one gone.

Diarrhea is the reason you can find a malnourished child in a well-fed family. Feed a child a high-protein biscuit by all means, but it will be of little use if she can’t keep it in. Diarrhea also affects vaccination efforts. Polio immunization workers sometimes need to administer the oral vaccine 10 times instead of once, because diarrhea washes it straight out again, or because a child’s immune system is already overwhelmed with fighting the pathogens in unsanitary environments. Nor is that all. Respiratory tract infections, the No. 1 killer of children, are also linked to poor sanitation, as they can be spread by unwashed hands.
The breadth and depth of the destruction caused by poor sanitation is stunning, but no more so than the way sanitation continues to be neglected, by donors and by politicians. Almost 90 percent of water and sanitation budgets in developing countries goes to providing clean water, even though a good latrine reduces diarrhea by 36 percent (clean water only reduces it by 20 percent).

Poor sanitation is linked to a quarter of all child deaths, but money still flows more readily to more fashionable diseases and causes. In Madagascar, less than 0.1 percent of the population is estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, and in 2007, UNAIDS found that there were too few AIDS deaths to estimate. Yet HIV/AIDS receives five times more funding there than sanitation, though diarrhea kills 14,000 Madagascan children every year.

There are all sorts of reasons sanitation continues to be treated like dirt. Nobody protests about it, for a start. Not even in great cities such as London, where 40 percent of public toilets have closed in the last decade, or New York, where it’s an achievement to find a toilet without having to buy a coffee or a muffin first. Ronnie Kasrils, previously proud to be known as South Africa’s minister for toilets (his official title was water affairs and forestry minister), says, “No one wants to talk about [human waste], do they? I’d go to public meetings, and no one ever says, ‘You know, man, I’m sick and tired of this disgusting latrine I’ve got.’”
"Diarrhea is the reason you can find a malnourished child in a well-fed family."
The flush toilet may be to blame. The wonderful disposal device did an excellent job of separating us from our potentially cholera-laden waste, but it also flushed sanitation out of the conversation. Yet language is crucial if one of the world’s biggest unaddressed public health crises is to get the attention it needs.

In the 1980s, the Indian government installed hundreds of thousands of new latrines. But those highly subsidized facilities went unused – at least for their intended purpose. Maybe because they were nicer than people’s houses, so they were turned into extra storage space, or temples. Maybe because people didn’t want a latrine near their house, or because they liked to stroll to the woods after eating. Either way, the government learned a lesson that is resonating throughout the sanitation world today: Toilets, and toilet behavior, is never just about the hardware. The software – human psychology and language – is critical.

Take Samiapalli. This village in the Indian state of Orissa was typical, riven by caste problems and wracked by serious alcohol abuse and domestic violence. There was no sanitation; rather, open defecation in nearby woods and along roadsides was the norm. Today – although it took 162 meetings to get everyone to agree (and to contribute to the cost) – everybody has access to a latrine, a bathing room, and running water. With the confidence gained through those 162 meetings, village women kicked out the illegal alcohol brewers and tied the most persistently violent men to a lamppost. Eighty percent more girls now go to school, according to the village leader. Women earn money by growing peanuts and selling other goods at market with the free time they’ve gained from no longer having to spend hours finding somewhere private to do their business, or to fetch cripplingly heavy water. The incidence of diarrhea has dropped dramatically.

“It’s the hardest entry point,” says Madiath, whose nongovernmental organization, Gram Vikas, helped bring the toilet revolution to Samiapalli. “But once you succeed in getting people to talk about sanitation, you can do anything.” In other words, sanitation isn’t a symptom of development. It can be a trigger for it.
Sanitation is also a bargain. Every dollar invested in it reaps an eightfold return, because people spend less on health costs and miss fewer days of work. In a 2008 report, the World Bank calculated that poor sanitation cost Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam 1.3 to 7.2 percent of their gross domestic product. When Peru had a cholera outbreak in 1991, tourism and agricultural losses amounted to three times more than what it would have cost to invest in proper sanitation over the previous decade. And as a disease-prevention mechanism, sanitation is hard to beat, in either effectiveness or price. Treatment of lower acute respiratory illnesses in children under five costs as much as US$264 per DALY (disability-adjusted life year, a standard health prevention unit of calculation). Sanitation costs $11. Hygiene promotion costs $3.
Gram Vikas and the villagers of Samiapalli are not alone. Countless foot soldiers, with little public support and no public champion, are trying to change things. There is Wang Ming Ying, a tiny Chinese woman who is trying to get rural villagers to install household bio-gas digesters, which convert latrine waste into cooking gas and thus lessen deforestation. There is Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, a man who jokes that the world can talk about eating – he calls this “uploading” – so it should be able to talk about downloading too. There is Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange and heir apparent to the Dutch throne, who heads the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. And there is David Kuria, a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi-Langata who works in the Kibera slum, installing community toilets to cut down on those awful helicopter versions.

Toilet appeal
An architect, Kuria worked in the civil service before turning to toilet provision. The change made perfect sense to him. “I understood that the biggest stimuli for development were water and sanitation,” he says. If they’re in place, then education, public health, and all aspects of livelihood improve – this is widely known. Kuria’s innovation was to understand that toilets have to appeal to people. “Toilets aren’t in people’s top priorities,” he says. “They should be, so what’s the problem? I realized it’s about the way we package a toilet’s social aspects.” To this end, he built a community toilet near Kenya’s parliament building, then persuaded politicians to hold meetings inside the new facility. Music plays, and there is a snack bar. “People told me that was taboo. They said no one would eat food prepared near a toilet. Now there are queues for the snacks.” Kuria also has plans for a “toilet reality show,” where contestants will travel the country in search of good toilets and recommend appropriate solutions for schools and neighborhoods.

Soap manufacturers learned how to market hygiene products over a century ago. Like Kuria, they realized that people don’t usually respond to health messages. Manufacturers never got anywhere by telling people that soap made them more hygienic. Only when their product was sold as sexy did sales flourish. Research in Benin, meanwhile, found that even mothers who see their children suffer again and again from diarrhea aren’t receptive to health advice. No one likes to be nagged. Instead, the mothers said that one of the main motivations for installing a latrine was learning that Benin’s royal family had them.
In some ways, these are exciting times in the sanitation world. The International Year of Sanitation was 2008. The Prince of Orange is a sensible man with access to powerful ears. In 2005, the United States passed the Water for the Poor Act and put real money behind it, mandating that at least $300 million a year go toward water and sanitation.
But the foot soldiers – princes and paupers – need more help than that. Despite the vast benefits that good sanitation can bring, according to Kasrils it was only reluctantly included as a target in the UN Millennium Development Goals, even though failing to meet that target would have domino effects on at least three other goals. A girl dying of diarrhea won’t go to school (Goal 2, achieve universal primary education), or be properly nourished (Goal 1, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger), or be alive past the age of five (Goal 4, reduce child mortality).
And yet few politicians dare to kick up a stink about sanitation. Kasrils was an exception, and he only saw the light because a cholera epidemic taught him that supplying clean water wasn’t much use when people were defecating near it or into it because they had no latrines.

Sanitation sorely needs a new champion. Step up, then, celebrities who happily promote a clean and shiny water faucet in a dusty village, with a photogenic child in tow, but don’t bother to take the few steps over to the latrine that has enabled that child to go back to school and prolonged her life. Sanitation, after all, was voted the best medical advance since 1840, over antibiotics and vaccines, by the knowledgeable readers of the British Medical Journal. Kuria says, “The toilet is at the heart of everything.” Yet still children die from plain and simple diarrhea, because we think sanitation is a dirty word.