Our work overseas

Simple steps to a brighter future

By improving access to water, we’re improving children’s health and education.

Our work in the Solomon Islands is about changing lives through the simplest of means.

By improving access to water, we’re improving children’s health and education. And by improving their health and education, we’re improving their chances of success.

For the last two years we have been working to improve water and sanitation in 42 schools in Guadalcanal - a project made possible through funding from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and with the generous support of UNICEF NZ donors and The David Ellison Charitable Trust.

Hand-washing Station
Hand-washing Station

One of the hand-washing stations built by the community at Ruavatu School

The greatest need

We focus on rural schools because they’re the ones who need it most. The most remote schools tend to get the least assistance simply because they’re so hard to get to.

Ruavatu Primary School, in North East Guadalcanal, is about a two hour drive from Honiara. Up until a few months ago it would have taken four or five hours to get to that school, but recent road improvements have cut that time in half.

It is typical of the schools we work with - way off the main road, on pretty rough tracks, and where they have challenges with resourcing and teacher capacity. The further out you go from Honiara, the less chance a school will have a toilet block, running water or taps.

Aruvatu School | Photo: World Vision
Aruvatu School | Photo: World Vision

Being welcomed by the Principal of Ruavatu school.

Making a difference

When schools lack water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities it means children don’t have access to clean drinking water, so they have to get it from somewhere else. If they’re spending time collecting water, they’re missing out on class.

Not having access to toilets means they’re forced to go in the bushes, and a lack of sanitation means there’s a much higher chance they’re going to get sick from diarrhoea, leading to higher absenteeism rates. We also know from research that at schools with good toilet facilities, children are more likely to attend, because it’s a nice place to be. The project also ensures that girls have good access to menstrual hygiene facilities at school. Currently girls stay at home during their period so they can miss out on three or four days of school per month.

Our aim is for all schools to have two stars on UNICEF’s three star system, meaning they have access to good, quality toilets with menstrual hygiene facilities and clean drinking water, that they have cleaning rosters and supervised handwashing.

A focus group discussion with the WASH committee at Ruavatu School. Photot: World Vision

Focus Group Discussion | Photo: World Vision
Focus Group Discussion | Photo: World Vision

A focus group discussion with the WASH committee at Ruavatu School.

Ensuring lasting change

Over these first two years we’ve worked with Government to develop and improve policies and standards, trying to institutionalise water and sanitation in schools to ensure that consideration of WASH facilities continues, even long after this project has come to an end. The country’s first National Standards for WASH in Schools was launched in June this year, attended by the Prime Minister, and are already being used for any new school facilities.

We’ve also worked on behaviour change - educating children and families about the importance of good sanitation behaviours such as hand-washing, and the links between hygiene and health, particularly among children. Students also have a hygiene component in their health education class. In many cases they’re explaining to their parents, who may not have this knowledge, why they have to do this.

We’ve heard mixed stories about the responses of parents - children are asking their parents why they haven’t got a hand-washing tap at home, and the parents responding positively. In other cases, some parents will say “we’ve never done it” so there is some reluctance to change. But, overall, when we have children asking why they don’t have greater access to hand-washing, that’s great.

Finally, we’ve started some of the construction. Most of that will happen in the next two to three years, so a lot of schools don’t yet have good quality toilets, but the indications are very good. The communities are contributing to the building of toilets, for example, the community at Aruvatu School have provided sand and grit for the cement, timber for the toilet block, and will provide labour during construction. This community buy-in creates a good sense of ownership which has been shown to improve sustainability.

Children at Ruavatu School demonstrating their hand-washing knowledge!

Aruvatu school hand-washing station
Aruvatu school hand-washing station

Children at Ruavatu School demonstrating their hand-washing knowledge!

By the end of this project we’re expecting all of the 42 schools to have good quality toilet facilities for boys and girls, and all children having access to clean drinking water. Classes will be having regular supervised hand-washing and school committees will be managing their new infrastructure with maintenance schedules.

It’s going to make a lot of difference, and it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of it.

Hamish Lindsay is a UNICEF NZ Programme Coordinator