One of the leading causes of death for small children in the poor areas of Guatemala are diseases caused by poor hygiene. In many of the rural highlands of western Guatemala, citizens do not have access to running water, which creates greater potential for illnesses from bacteria and other sources of contamination. In order to reduce the effects of poor hygiene, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is bringing running water to the poorest areas of Guatemala and teaching school children how to take advantage of it.
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is an organization based in Switzerland that helps over 3 million people worldwide. By organizing specific projects to better living situations for the poor, HELVETAS works toward ensuring that all basic rights of survival are met.
Fourteen percent of the total Guatemalan population lives below the extreme poverty line, but most of the people living in the harshest circumstances live in the rural areas. The Guatemalan sector of HELVETAS is in the western and northern highlands of the country, where more than half of the people lack access to safe, clean running water.
Projects dealing with water sanitation and sustainability are quite popular with the HELVETAS organization, making them more than qualified to initiate projects like building wells, pipelines and sanitary sewage systems in rural Guatemalan communities. Though many organizations are funding clean water initiatives and building projects in rural Guatemala, the unique thing about HELVETAS’ project is its plan to further the benefits of running water by teaching school children about good hygiene.
HELVETAS is showing educators how to teach children to effectively use the running water in schools as drinking water, a source of sanitation and a means of personal hygiene. As Orfilia del Carmen Velasquez Lopez pointed out, children want to learn about personal hygiene in schools because they cannot learn at home. She says that the students “see toothbrushes and say, ‘Show us how to use them.’”
The students learn the importance of brushing their teeth, washing their hands and other aspects of personal hygiene made possible by running water. They also learn how proper sewage systems can separate humans from their waste, thereby reducing contact with bacteria and disease-spreading flies. For these children, knowledge is power — the power to save lives.
The hope of the HELVETAS project is that the students will return home with more knowledge about the necessity of clean, running water and the danger of diseases caused by poor hygiene. The students will, in turn, teach their families how to live a more hygienic and disease-free lifestyle, thanks to the efforts of HELVETAS and other organizations providing rural Guatemala with access to running water.
— Emily Walthouse