Angel, Elizabeth, and Sylvia are a triple force for hygiene promotion at their school in Blantyre, Malawi. The girls are triplets, and they’re all in the school sanitation club.
"Water is important because it helps us keep our bodies healthy," shares Angel. Her sister Sylvia chimes in, "Improved sanitation also helps to prevent the spread of diseases. If we are sick, then we cannot attend school."
Before the improved water and sanitation facilities were installed at the school, students would have to wait in a long line to use the two toilets. Because the triplets live a quarter of a mile from school, they would usually walk home when they needed to use a bathroom, but that would lead to time away from class.
"Now students don’t miss class because of going home to use a toilet or to drink water," says Elizabeth.
As members of the school sanitation club, the girls are responsible for teaching other students about hygiene. Sylvia says they encourage students to go home and teach their families about the same topics. She says she and her sisters have been sharing with their parents about the importance of washing their hands with soap before eating.
"At first our parents would laugh, but now they know that we are serious," shares Elizabeth. "Now they always wash their hands before eating!"
One of the activities the sanitation club coordinates is called the World Toilet Cup – a soccer-themed game that reinforces what students learn about hygiene, water, and sanitation. The club wants to make it as fun and engaging as possible for students to learn about these topics.
The school’s education about hygiene also includes talking about menstrual hygiene management.
"Before, I would pretend I had a headache and wouldn’t come to school during menstruation," shares Sylvia. "This would make me miss class for three days every month."
Now the school provides girls with pads, painkillers, counseling from female teachers, and a changing room. Sylvia says these resources have allowed girls to attend school while they’re on their periods, and overall, students have become more comfortable talking about menstruation."
Having safe water and sanitation services available to them has improved Angel, Elizabeth, and Sylvia’s lives dramatically. Being able to stay in school is helping them dream bigger for their futures. Sylvia says she wants to be a scientist so she can solve various technical problems in Malawi. Angel wants to be a nurse, primarily so she can help women in rural areas who face complications in childbirth since there are so few qualified nurses. And Elizabeth wants to be a surgical doctor. She sees many Malawians going abroad for surgeries that are very expensive, and she wants to have her own health clinic and help people in her own country.
These girls will undoubtedly leave a mark on their country – starting with the ways they’re promoting safe water, sanitation, and hygiene at their school.