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It’s all in our hands: Old solutions to a new world problem

At just one school many thousands of litres of water can be saved each year by using tippy tap washing points. Pictures: Supplied

By Bridget Ringdahl and Julia Colvin

In addressing the Covid-19 outbreak, many environmental justice shortcomings have been highlighted. Many schools do not have access to safe municipal water let alone a host of taps for regular handwashing. This has provided not just a challenge, but an opportunity to seek low tech, cost effective and appropriate solutions towards keeping children safe.

While all schools are provided with costly sanitisers, tippy-taps, a system of 2l bottles with drainage holes, is a proven, simple, cost effective and water saving way to provide more opportunities for pupils to wash their hands.

Pupils demonstrate how the tippy tap bottle system works.

The Global Search for Sustainable Schools (GSS)/Water Explorer project has been supporting schools in the KZN Midlands and beyond, to ensure they have enough water saving options on site by setting up tippy tap washing points. Added to this, saving water could never be more important as we experience the dry season and continue to struggle with drought.

Once installed, the Grade 7s at recipient schools were supported with an applied maths lesson to work out how much water can be saved if everyone uses tippy taps as opposed to normal running taps. In the case of Shea O’Conner Combined School, Nqobile Mpofana and her classmates worked out that on average 2l per person are used under a running tap per wash, compared with a tippy tap, that requires just 50ml per wash.

Inspired to teach

“We worked out that we would need 144, five thousand litre jojo tanks just to keep the hands clean of 600 pupils three times per day at our school for one year!” said Nqobile. She went on to say that “with tippy taps, the school would only need an equivalent 3, five thousand litre jojo tanks per year instead!”

“Learning this really opened my eyes,” said Mpho Chinowe. “I am inspired to teach people this method and will set one up at home for my family.”

Pupils have shown great commitment to learning and making the system work.

The GSS/Water Explorer programme has also helped teachers in their preparation for re-introducing learners back to school by giving them workshops on the coronavirus. Many of the beliefs that people have about the virus are informed by unsubstantiated media reports, rumours and conspiracy theories – our role was to filter the fiction and deliver the facts.

Importantly the basics were explained, such as how does one become infected; how do we protect ourselves and others.

Water access fears amid the Covid pandemic

Zama Sibetha from Donnybrook Primary said, “The workshop was very informative. We haven’t had any specific workshops on the virus, so it has helped to improve our understanding. It is good to know that school is possibly one of the safer places to be as we have learned that children are not infected as easily and also carry a much smaller viral load and don’t therefore, infect others as easily”.

Importantly teachers were helped to understand the connection between our relationship with the environment and how our actions are contributing to many of the global health epidemics we see today. In comparison to previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu, present lifestyle mortalities like Type 2 diabetes and the far more sinister realities of climate change, entirely dwarf our preoccupation with corona.

Access to water is a global issue and priority for communities and governments. Picture: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The workshop was intended to get people thinking about real meaningful change for the long-term sustainability of people and the planet. Ziyanda Ndlela, from Mphephetha Primary commented, “Humans have always turned a blind eye to nature, this virus is a wake-up call. The workshop helped us to start seeing the links between our actions that cause things like climate change and the rise of diseases.”

Now read: Midlands schools partnerships flourish

Sthembile Tshabalala, a teacher at Kwangubeni Primary school, commented, “I found the information on nutrition particularly interesting. It brought back forgotten knowledge systems and the value of an immune boosting, nutritional plant-based diet found in plants that grow in our gardens.”

She went on to say that teachers now felt empowered to protect themselves. “Thank you for helping us to be proactive to protect ourselves, to save water, and bring back our culture.”

**The GSS/Water Explorer Programme is supported by the Ministry of Environment, Japan and is implemented by the African Conservation Trust


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