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Powering Students' Futures with Clean Water and Sanitation

By Atul Tandon

At the Best Start School in Ghana, a little girl proudly showed me the row of brightly colored bathroom stalls that lined the periphery of the property. She grinned as she pointed to the bold painted letters reading, “Girls Bathroom.” Outside of the stalls was a sink with running water, and the ground was carefully covered with tile.

Next to the row of purple doors stood a water tank full of clean, drinkable water. Beyond that, there was an ever-growing block of classrooms.

For the 466 students at Best Start—and for thousands of kids like them around the world—these seemingly standard resources are actually game-changers. When students have clean water and sanitation available at school, they are more likely to remain healthy, and adolescents (especially girls) have an easier time continuing their educations.

Around the world today, “2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services.” (UNICEF 2017). The crisis is so dramatic that in 2015, the World Economic Forum declared the global water crisis as the biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade.

When we think about this future—this next decade—the students at Best Start come to mind. They are eager and bright; determined and clever. They can (and should) change the world. But without clean water and sanitation, they are at risk of disease. When clean water is miles away, they have to spend their days walking instead of learning. When there isn’t a bathroom at school, it is difficult for girls to continue attending once when they hit puberty.

The crisis is so dramatic that in 2015, the World Economic Forum declared the global water crisis as the "biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade."

It’s a terrible reality. And one that we at Opportunity International know has to change.

Through School Improvement Loans (SIL), Opportunity International invests in school infrastructure, helping school proprietors create safe, healthy spaces for students to learn. Coupled with our other education-focused products like School Fee Loans that help families afford their children’s education and school clusters that improve the quality of education teachers provide, SILs transform the educational experience for the students we serve.

Recently, our EduFinance team interviewed a small group of proprietors, students, and families to see how SILs were being used to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene at their schools—and how those improvements had improved education.

Five of the eight schools studied used their SIL to improve access to water through water tanks, boreholes, and pumps. Five of the eight also invested in toilets—upgrading their pit latrines to create safer sanitation for their students.

Parents noted the benefits of closer access to water, and students commented that safe water was now always accessible.

With a simple loan, the educational environment of these schools was changed for good.

By addressing water and sanitation, we make it possible for more kids to go to school, grow, learn, and break the cycle of poverty for themselves, their families, and their communities. And just like my new young friend showed me, this is something worth celebrating.

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