The community of Pachoj in Guatemala is 15 miles from the nearest town and challenging to get to – in the rainy season the trek to this tiny town can include more than a mile of walking along muddy roads that often become unpassable for cars. Because access to the town is so difficult, Pachoj lacks basic services like drinking water, sanitation, and electricity.
Despite this lack of infrastructure, one community member was determined to start a school in Pachoj. And when Cristian Misael López started working with the local Guatemalan development agency to build classrooms for his 37 students in 2016, he also made sure to prioritize water and sanitation facilities.
"Before the construction of the water and sanitation facilities, the children practiced open defecation," says Cristian. "They consumed contaminated water and were careless with their hygiene."
Cristian worked with Water For People and a local development agency to change these realities for his students. His small school was able to build toilets and handwashing stations, as well as learn how to treat wastewater. But just as important as these new facilities was the curriculum Cristian and other teachers incorporated to make sure students understood the importance of using the facilities.
"With the training provided to us, we were taught to tackle hygiene education in a playful, innovative, and creative way," Cristian says.
One of the methods the school utilizes is Hygiene Corners – a place in each classroom dedicated to learning about healthy hygiene practices.
The Hygiene Corners include resources aimed at reminding students of the importance of hygienic habits. In addition to storing toothbrushes, soap, towels, and nail clippers, the corners include a hygiene wheel that has drawings of hygienic habits – washing hands, brushing teeth, combing hair, clipping nails, and more. Several days a week, the teacher asks students to spin the wheel to determine which hygiene habit they’ll address in class that day.
"With the Hygiene Corners, we’ve helped the students’ hygiene improve, which has improved their self-esteem and even helped them avoid bullying," Cristian says.
Cristian says the new facilities have decreased absences at the school and students quickly started coming to school with better hygiene habits – such as washing hands before eating and after using the bathroom.
Marta is a fifth-grader at the school, and although timid to speak, she is sure of the impact of the changes at her school. "I really like how my school is now. I have learned to use the toilet, about staying clean, and why it is important to wash your hands," she says. Before, Marta says she would often have stomach pain from drinking contaminated water, but now the stomachaches have disappeared.
"I talk with my mom about all these things that happen at school and the things the teachers teach us," Marta says. It has led to her mother to also practice safer hygiene habits, including using their household’s toilet and boiling water to make sure it is safe for them to drink.
"Before, I didn’t like the school as much," Marta says. "Now, I feel happy because it looks nice and is so clean."
Even in these furthest, hard-to-reach corners of Guatemala, students like Marta can now count on access to reliable water and sanitation, and they’re promoting the importance of these new services to their families and community – helping guarantee water and sanitation will be around and utilized Forever.