Nematou Malle is the Minister’s name and she is 12. Nematou is a proud member of the Children’s Government recently started at N’tjibougou school in southern Mali along with five other classmates. She describes her portfolio saying, “I have been elected Minister of Cleanliness and my job is to keep all students in good health, see that they drink clean water, that they come to school clean and that the school latrines and courtyard are clean.”
The Children’s Government has been initiated so that students become actively involved in the changes taking place at the school under the Dubai Cares’ WASH in Schools program. Along with representing the student body, the Children Government Ministers are expected to show practical leadership in the new responsibilities instigated under the WASH in Schools program. This leadership is centered around mobilizing other children and organizing them in a manner that maintains a good standard of hygiene at the school.
Nematou’s brush represents one part of a hygiene kit provided to the school under the Dubai Cares’initiative. Other items are buckets and gloves, face masks to protect against the dust, soap and bleach, everything needed, in fact, for thorough cleanliness to be maintained at the water pump and in the latrines with the hand washing stations.
The new latrines at the school are now adequate: three for boys, three for girls. This is another big change for the students. Before, with up to 70 students for each available latrine, their choices were to go into the surrounding bush for open defecation or to run home to the village and miss class. In the village, an extended family’s traditional latrine can be shared by as many as 30 people, so often this idea was not a practical option.
Using the new latrines properly and keeping a good standard of cleanliness there and at the well when collecting drinking water for the classrooms, sweeping the compound regularly and removing the rubbish, washing their hands with soap after latrine use and before eating, keeping their clothes neat and clean - the precise remit which Nematou has as a Minister – all represent the crucial practical proof that the WASH in Schools program can successfully impact behavioral change.
Being involved in the Children’s Government for just a few short weeks appears to have given Nematou abounding confidence that she, with her Counselor’s help, can sustain this order and continue to influence other behavioral changes they are committed to. Again her chin tilts as she says, “We will succeed with our messages.” She goes on, “The teachers are supporting the Children’s Government. For my task, I know I have enough knowledge and power to do this job.”
Developmental Challenges in Mali
Mali still faces a great challenge in achieving United Nations Millennium Development Goal 2 - namely, to achieve universal primary education by 2015. There are nearly 900,000 children out of school, and many children who start school do not finish. Foremost among the reasons children fail to finish or do not begin school are preventable health problems such as diarrhea, intestinal worms and chronic malnutrition driven by the lack of access to safe water and appropriate sanitation facilities at schools.
Dubai Cares Programs in Mali
Dubai Cares runs a WASH-in-Schools program in the West-African country of Mali with the objective of improving children’s access to quality primary education. Dubai Cares’ intervention includes a multi-partner, four-year program being implemented by UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, Oxfam GB and WaterAid. This wide ranging intervention covers 726 schools in a number of regions across Mali to provide basic low-cost water and sanitation infrastructure to ensure a healthy and adequate learning environment. It also focuses on hygiene promotion in both the school and the community to ensure behavior change over the long term.