Permanent Solutions Require Innovative Initiatives
Integrated Community and School Programming (School Water Sanitation and Hygiene Education plus Community Impact—SWASH+)
Water For People–Guatemala is rethinking the way conventional school programming is implemented. Traditionally, schools have been the weakest link in programs: teachers are often underpaid and overworked; those who have received hygiene education training often leave for better schools; and school administrations have limited or nonexistent funding. School-focused programs often become graveyards for broken water systems and dirty, unused latrines.
To address this, Water For People–Guatemala treats schools as part of the wider community along with local parent associations, governments, and development organizations. Each school intervention is combined with water and sanitation solutions and hygiene education in the associated community, ensuring that hygiene practices taught in schools are reinforced at home. Responsibility for financing and maintenance of the school water and sanitation system is placed on the community and local government, thus taking the burden off the often overwhelmed and underfunded schools.
Water For People–Guatemala’s SWASH+ work has rightfully gained national and international attention. In 2012, Water For People–Guatemala won an award for “Best Practices for Promoting Health in the School Environment” from the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization in the environmental protection category. Water For People–Guatemala’s hygiene education methodology of creating classroom hygiene corners has been adopted in Honduras and Nicaragua.
In the municipalities of the Salinas Watershed, communities are experiencing water shortages, due in part to the effects of climate change. Some springs in the area no longer produce the same quantities of water as in the past. Increasing demand for potable water from communities, combined with the decreasing amount of available water, presents a difficult future. Because of the lack of surface water sources, some communities have begun to drill wells, which involve higher costs and the need for groundwater management plans.
Water For People–Guatemala is collaborating with the municipal government, agencies of the national government, and the Quiché Water and Sanitation Network (RASKICHE) to align local efforts to protect the watershed. Current watershed-focused activities supported by Water For People–Guatemala are experimentation with payments for environmental services (whereby a portion of the water fees collected are used for watershed activities), Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) training with municipal authorities, ecological sanitation projects, and promotion of community tree nurseries in coordination with the National Institute of Forests.
Monitoring is a cornerstone of the Water For People–Guatemala program as it leads to organizational improvement and innovation at all levels. At the regional and national levels, we consolidate data collected in individual communities to review how we are doing at a macro scale, process lessons learned, and identify trends. But the most important level is that which directly involves the people who live in the districts we support. Monitoring empowers country staff and partners to identify programmatic strengths on which to build, and weaknesses, which become the target of joint-problem solving with local governments and communities. This way we think in terms of movement and trends, and focus on constantly improving and getting results to trend positively over time. Failure for us is not monitoring, not learning, not reflecting, and not changing.
Water For People–Guatemala currently conducts district-wide community- and household-level monitoring in all Everyone Forever districts at least once per year, using Akvo FLOW. Today, data is typically collected by teams consisting of Water For People headquarters and country staff as well as local government officials. Over time, our participation will decrease, as the capacity of local partners increases and they are able to monitor and use the results to inform their own investment and annual operating plans. A key component of Forever is our commitment to embedding monitoring systems within local, permanent institutions, so users and those responsible for service provision have the information necessary to ensure water flows indefinitely. Water For People– Guatemala will continue reporting on progress toward that goal over a 10-year period post project implementation.