From classroom to community: Solomon Islands students drive WASH improvements

WASH club students raising their hands for inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene

Schools are at the heart of efforts to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in rural Solomon Islands.

In western Guadalcanal province, some 6,000 students are actively championing positive WASH messages and practices, including regular handwashing with soap and water, within their homes and communities.

They are part of the Water for Women New Times New Targets project being implemented by Plan International and Live & Learn Environmental Education in 22 schools, 60 communities and eight health clinics in western Guadalcanal province.

Lucia Bula, who works as a WASH project officer, said: "Schools provide the perfect platform for gender and social inclusion because of the neutrality of its learning environment."

After just two years, schools are seeing more girls and women, boys and men advocating for hygiene, including menstrual health management. “The results are incredible,” said Lucia.

The project uses global WASH days, such as Global Handwashing Day on 15 October and Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, to raise WASH awareness. These days include talks from WASH committee teachers and WASH Club students.

“Such days are filled with awareness raising, quizzes, showcasing of menstrual hygiene products and practical handwashing sessions,” said Lucia. “We also engage teachers and students to participate in WASH training to increase their knowledge to become WASH advocates in schools and communities.”

The increased awareness is triggering behavioural changes in communities. Schools report students requesting parents build proper toilets and handwashing facilities in their homes.

Communities are also becoming more accepting of open discussions on traditionally taboo topics, such as menstrual hygiene.

Lucia was speaking in an interview as part of the Resilient WASH in Schools session at SIWI World Water Week on 25 August 2021. You can watch the full video here:

Solomon Islands is an archipelago of over 900 tropical islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean. The country has a culturally diverse population of more than 660,000 people, of whom 80 per cent live in 1,800 rural communities in nine provinces. But its WASH statistics are lagging. In rural areas:

  • Only 54 per cent have improved water access
  • Only 13 per cent have improved sanitation access
  • About 80 per cent practice open defecation.

The New Times New Targets project, collaborating with national and provincial government authorities, is an effort to improve WASH services and gender equality in rural communities. 

Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 WASH projects and research initiatives that aim to support 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific. Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022.

 

Photos & video: Plan International Australia and Live & Learn Environmental Education 

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