Contributed by CAWST’s Youth Wavemakers program

The Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) Youth Wavemakers Program uses ‘stories of hope,’ like the one below, to empower youth in Canada to become global citizens. The stories that are shared have inspired youth to take action in their own communities and schools to reduce water consumption and waste while connecting them to other global communities doing the same thing.

One way to engage youth in global water issues is to collect stories from children in developing countries who have lived through challenges such as having contaminated well water or lacking access to a toilet. Through their stories, these kids show not just the problems, but creative solutions that their communities have used to overcome challenges and improve health and the environment.

One such story is about a ten-year-old girl named Tikho who lives in Zambia. In April 2010, a Calgary educator met Tikho and asked her to share her story. With a digital camera, Tikho began to take photos and videos of her daily life, particularly as it related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Unfortunately, her community water source was badly contaminated and as a result Tikho’s town was named Chipulukusu, or Cursed, because people were frequently getting sick and dying from waterborne diseases.

How then, did the town become renamed to Mapolo or Blessed? Education. Once the community of Chipulukusu understood why they were getting sick, they began to take action, installing hand-washing stations (called tippy taps) and using biosand filters to clean their drinking water. Tikho is now fortunate enough to have a toilet as well: local residents learned how to build latrines in order to contain contamination and reduce disease transmission.

A great way to engage young people in water and sanitation issues is to share stories similar to Tikho’s. CAWST has found that when elementary students watch Tikho’s video of her friends collecting water from the well, learn why people were getting sick and the actions they took to gain access to safe drinking water, the become inspired to make behaviour changes in their own use of water. Most children are shocked by the overuse of water in North America compared to Tikho’s community. Many stop running the tap when they brush their teeth or start taking shorter showers. They also ask: “what can we do in our own community?” This becomes a stepping stone towards global citizenship. For example, as one grade 9 Calgary student explained:

“People in Zambia use less than 20 litres of water per day while Calgarians use in excess of 300. This made us ask, could we use less? If so, why don’t we?”

As her global leadership class began to look at various ways they could conserve water at home, they sent home leaky toilet testers to increase awareness about water wastage at home. Then, after realizing their school’s urinals flushed every six minutes, they lobbied the school board to install sensors in order to reduce water consumption.

Taking action on global and local water issues allows North American youth to follow Tikho’s example by recognizing local and global water challenges while looking for solutions. One grade nine teacher believes that participation in an action project has allowed his students to feel that there is hope in dealing with some of the world’s seemingly insurmountable issues: “They get to feel a part of something bigger – and to realize they are not alone in fighting to make the world a better place.”

Reflection questions:

  • What does this case study tell us about the nature of a successful school partnership?
  • How does this case study achieve some of the benefits listed above?
  • How did each partner benefit from this project?
  • What are some issues that your students are studying right now that may connect with larger global issues? What are issues that your students are interested in? How might you use that to inform your next partnership or project?
  • How might you inspire direct action and positive change through the projects you undertake?

The youth involved in CAWST’s Wavemaker program have reached over 100,000 Canadians through their water action projects. See their current and past projects here.

CAWST hosts a Wavemakers Summit, which teaches about critical water issues and solutions.

Categories: Case StudiesEducation