11 May 2016

Water is cool in school

An Olympic champion in the making: Bataa shows his medals from national and international taekwondo tournaments.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
When the bell rings for morning break in 119th school, Nalaikh, classroom doors fly open and the children rush out. First stop, a reviving drink of cool, clean water from one of the school’s water filters. Seventeen-year-old Bat-Ireedui doesn’t have to go very far. “I’m lucky”, he grins, taking a gulp of water. “My classroom is right next to the water filter!” Drinking clean water whenever you want to may be something that many children take for granted – but not these students.

Bat-Ireedui (or Bataa, as he’s known), is in the twelfth grade. He lives with his mother and father in Nalaikh, on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

He’s an avid taekwondo student, practising four or five times a week at school. ”I’ve been doing taekwondo for over six years now. I love it because it teaches you discipline”, he says proudly. He’s taken part in local, national and international competitions, and has won three national championships as well as silver and bronze medals.

As he fills his cup, Bataa explains what would happen if the school didn’t have water filters.

“Students spend at least four hours a day at school. If they have extracurricular activities or sports practice sessions, it’s even longer. Many children, including myself, would go for hours without drinking water. And if we got really thirsty, we would drink unfiltered tap water, because we couldn’t afford to buy bottled.

Bataa and a his classmate at one of the school’s water filters.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
“But now with these water filters, children can drink clean, safe water whenever they need. The filter has both cold and hot water, which is very nice”, he adds.

Bataa hopes one day to become an Olympic champion, and he knows he needs clean water to help him realize his dream. “Water is important because it helps us stay healthy. If a person is healthy, they can work hard and reach their goal.”

Community approval

Mr. Dorj, the school caretaker explains how the school got its filters.

“With UNICEF’s help, three water filters were installed in our school in 2013. That was the year after the school was built. We had three water filters on each floor, but for 1,800 students and staff, it wasn’t enough. So the school decided to buy one more.
“Having clean water is very important for children, so we do our best to keep the filters in good condition, and we’ve set aside a certain amount in our budget for maintenance,” he says. “Now we’re discussing installing two more filters to provide better access.”

Doctor Munguntsetseg believes that having water filters at school is very important for children’s health.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
Staff and students alike were enthusiastic from the start. “Drinking plenty of clean water has lot of benefits”, says Ms Munguntsetseg, the school doctor. “For example, by staying hydrated, children won’t get tired so easily and will be able to digest their food properly, which will eventually help them do better at school. With the filters, the children can now drink water whenever they need to. And thanks to the campaign on hygiene supported by the Mongolian Red Cross Society and UNICEF, they’ve developed the good habit of drinking plenty of water. Most children now have their own cups and water bottles.”

UNICEF and water in schools

Water is essential for the survival and development of all children. Safe drinking water is vital for children’s health, development, and their education.

UNICEF’s WASH in Schools programme gives students and their teachers access to safe and child-friendly water and sanitation facilities, along with education on hygiene, to improve health, boost educational achievement, and promote gender equity.

A study conducted in 14 sub-districts of Nalaikh revealed that access to safe water was inadequate in both kindergartens and schools. To rectify this situation, UNICEF provided samples of water filters to some target schools, dorms and kindergartens in Nalaikh district and Khuvsgul province, to demonstrate possible ways of providing clean drinking water.

The initiative was strongly supported by local authorities who, along with schools and parents, helped fund water filters for other schools. And as parents and teachers have learned more about hygiene through the UNICEF programme, so water treatment and storage have improved significantly.

“These good practices need to be replicated”, says Mr. Batnasan, “to support children’s right to clean water and sanitation. Currently, nationwide access to improved drinking water stands at 68 per cent, and at only 58 per cent when it comes to sanitation facilities. Recently, the Government of Mongolia approved the Norms and Requirements for WASH in Kindergartens, Schools, and Dormitories as a result of advocacy by UNICEF and its partners. We believe this document is a stepping stone to improving children’s access to clean water and proper sanitation.”

For Bataa, it could be a stepping stone into an Olympic future.

Author: Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant, UNICEF Mongolia

Editor: Cathy Keable-Elliott, Editor Consultant, UNICEF Mongolia

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