To have access to clean water and toilets in the school compound. Improve the health of communities through the knowledge conveyed by the children. Learning basic nutrition through school gardens: this is the promise of the Blue Schools that are flourishing in the four corners of the world. Like here in Niger, where awareness and infrastructures improve the health of the population.
To improve the health status and strengthen the socio-economic role of women and youth in the Dosso region through access to safe drinking water, hygiene promotion, sanitation and participatory management of water and sanitation facilities. The project includes a specific component dedicated to the establishment of Blue Schools.
With a pickaxe in her hand and a determined look in her eyes, Inayatou Hama is not afraid of the dust that covers the bottom of her electric blue dress. At age 12, she is discovering the treasures the land has to offer, and there are many. “I learned how to take care of trees and spread manure in the fields. I also learned how to sow, prepare the soil, plow and irrigate properly,” says the schoolgirl from Kollo, Niger.
Inayatou Hama is 12 years old and has been attending Ecole Bleue in Kollo, Niger since 2021. Here she is in her school’s vegetable garden, growing eggplants and tomatoes to take home.
Gardens of Hope
In October 2021, Inayatou’s school became a “Blue School”. These particular schools that are flourishing in the four corners of the world are committed to linking education, environment and hygiene. The school grounds are decorated with fruits and vegetables that the students grow together. Through the school gardens, they experiment with land and water management practices.
The children learn to recognize the different varieties of vegetables and grains and their nutritional benefits, as well as agroecological techniques for growing them; composting, germination, setting up nurseries, creating natural pesticides and fertilizers, and using minimal water. Inayatou regularly returns home with a bag full of eggplants, moringa, tomatoes and carrots. The food supplements the sometimes meager harvests of the families and improves the nutritional quality of the meals, which are mainly based on cereals.
Better infrastructure, better health
The Blue Schools are also committed to improving the health of children through the teaching of good hygiene practices. Thus, they reinforce or create infrastructures in order to offer children access to drinking water, clean toilets and washbasins near the classrooms. School absenteeism is significantly reduced. In addition, children are educated about hygiene and learn the importance of washing their hands or drinking clean water. In a country where the infant mortality rate due to unsafe water is one of the highest in the world, this is an essential step.
The Blue Schools concept relies on children as a vehicle for change. “If we educate children between the ages of 6 and 10 about the link between hygiene and health, they will grow up with this knowledge and bring it back to their families,” explains Ibrahim Hamadou, project manager at SWISSAID Niger.
Around the women
Poor access to drinking water does not only affect children. In the Dosso region, where the SWISSAID project is being implemented, 55% of the population does not have access to drinking water and more than 75% do not have the possibility to use a toilet. In order for the awareness transmitted through children to be effective for the whole community, the project also provides infrastructures for the supply of drinking water in the form of cisterns, wells or fountains in the villages.
A woman raises awareness in a village about the importance of having sanitary materials, especially pads, available. Menstruation is still a relatively taboo subject in Nigerian society, even among women. However, knowledge and access to adequate materials greatly facilitates the lives of women, especially girls, who can thus live their period with dignity and continue to go to school.
Women and girls benefit particularly from these facilities. Access to water in the village allows them to use the time normally allocated to fetching water, sometimes up to 5 hours’ walk, to cultivate the fields, market the products or go to school. And during menstruation, still a taboo subject even among women, toilets in the school compound allow schoolgirls to come to class without interruption. Sewing machines are even available to make sanitary napkins and allow girls to go through their menstruation with dignity.