The smiles and enthusiasm are as bright as the crisp yellow shirts the students are wearing. This school, tucked away in a verdant valley in Rwanda’s Rulindo district, is forging a better way forward for its 1,000 students, and it started with better water and sanitation.
The lush green hillsides are a picturesque backdrop to the school’s tidy brick buildings. The school itself is spotless. The day we arrive, they’re putting a fresh coat of paint on the already pristine classroom buildings. I walk between bicycle-lined corridors, alongside students finding their way to their next class. Walking further into the complex, I see students head-down in classrooms, taking their exams.
As I talk to a group of students, it’s clear that the improved water and sanitation in their school and community has given them a chance at a better future, a chance to fulfill their dreams.
Josephine wants to be a journalist — I tell her I also studied journalism and wish her good luck. Eugene wants to be a mechanic. Thierry wants to be a teacher. Josianne wants to open her own shop. Crotilde wants to be a teacher. The list goes on. These bright-faced and eager students are gaining the skills they need to pursue their dreams. Before reliable water came, when they lost time and health, dreams like these were harder to come by. Instead of staying in school, kids were fetching water or suffering preventable waterborne illnesses. Now, they get to truly be kids — playing, studying, learning.
At the far end of the complex is one of the school’s two water points. These water points supply the handwashing and drinking water stations sprinkled throughout the school. And these students know all about hygiene and safe drinking water habits — their schools’ hygiene committee makes sure of it.
Marie and Alphonse are two older students who lead the hygiene committee. Both had to campaign for their leadership positions — their platform was a promise of improved hygiene. The committee they lead has 40 students and meets weekly. They split into groups to check in on the cleanliness of the bathrooms and the hygiene education happening in classrooms. The education teaches about things like handwashing, conserving water during the dry season, and how to talk about hygiene with your families. Alphonse and Marie take their job seriously, and their commitment is leading to huge changes at the school.
Alphonse and Marie are eager to show off some sanitation and hygiene facilities. Marie shows me the girls room — where older girls can go to rest or change their menstrual pads when they’re on their periods. Having menstrual hygiene resources has improved attendance among teenage girls, making them more comfortable coming to school during their periods.
Together, Alphonse and Marie bring us to the sanitation block. The latrines are built in a way that allows solid to be separated from liquid, and the solid becomes pathogen-free compost for the school garden. This school garden supports a feeding program at the school that ensures every student has a healthy lunch to eat. This feeding program has also contributed to the increased attendance at the school.
All of the students are clearly proud of what their school has achieved and take seriously their commitment to care for water resources, the environment, and their own hygiene. As we leave the school and weave back through the winding, bumpy roads back to Kigali, I’m reminded just how much of a gift water is. A gift that gives so much in return. For the students and families I met in Rwanda, it gave back time — to play, to work, to study. It gave health — no more waterborne sicknesses that steal time and even life. It gave education — letting kids like the ones at this school pursue their dreams. It gave prosperity — families had more time to invest in providing for their future.
If you want to give a gift that will have an impact that lives on forever, give water this holiday season.
by Dana de Andres, Writer + Content Manager