The young boy sits close to the old man and speaking urgently, looks up into his face. The boy, Youssouf Dissa, 10, has come from school with important information to pass on to his family. His task is to convince his grandfather, Adama, that family members must use soap when they wash their hands before eating their evening meal. This is what Youssouf has learned in class at N’tjibougou School and now he and the other students are sharing their knowledge, inadvertently starting a behavioral change process throughout their community.
Showing what he wrote in his book during today’s lesson, Youssouf repeats, “We get dirty from sweat and dust. We must regularly wash with clean water and soap.’’ Head Teacher Marcel Coulibaly explains that all the teachers were recently trained by Save the Children under the Dubai Cares’ initiative, so that now such repetitive messages about hand washing with soap are given daily in class.
Youssouf, says ‘’I’ve learned it’s important to drink clean water to avoid stomach ache and diarrhea,’’ he says, “and that you have to wash with soap every time before and after food and after using the latrine.”
During the evening meal, Adama is the first to lather his hands, using a ball of the green-grey soap made locally from vegetable oil and potash. Family members follow him, pouring water from a kettle to rinse their hands.
Elsewhere among the sun-dried mud brick huts, similar scenarios are enacted, all as a result of parents having been convinced by their children’s arguments. “Now the parents understand,” says Makan Keita, Community Development Agent with Save the Children.
Other hygiene practices are being adopted as a natural progression from the hand washing activity. Youssouf says, “At school we’ve learned to keep our drinking water clean. We’ve got a new pump in the compound and no one is allowed to step near it wearing their shoes. There’s a fine to pay if a boy or girl forgets. Now at the village, we’ve made everyone aware there should be a cover protecting it, and that we must keep our buckets off the ground to avoid dirt contaminating the water.”
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.
Providing Access to Quality Primary Education
Dubai Cares efforts in Mali reflect the theme of its “End Poverty. Educate Now.” Ramadan campaign, which will run throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan to spread awareness of the importance of education, as one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. The campaign also aims to raise funds for improving children’s access to education in developing countries.