Nathan Strauss, 17, a student at Abington Senior High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is part of a growing movement of America's youth who are stepping up to make a change in the lives of the students around the world who are carrying water and not books.
Even for those children who have the opportunity to go to school, students lose 443 million school days each year due to diseases associated with the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Repeated episodes of diarrhea and worm infestations diminish a child's ability to learn and impair cognitive development. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of adequate WASH facilities in more than half of all schools in developing countries.
"I had no idea of the magnitude of the issue and I was shocked to find out the severity of the crisis and the number of students like me across the world that still don't even have a toilet at their school. Doing something about this has become a really big deal for me," said Nathan Strauss. "I think America's youth has great potential to do something about this problem; if everyone gets taught the issue, we can all help. Imagine if all the students in America were a part of this; the change would be enormous," he continued.
Nathan is not alone. Nearly 30 organizations launched a campaign called "Raising Clean Hands" in the United States on October 13 to demonstrate that providing water, sanitation and hygiene education in schools globally can help solve the WASH and education challenge around the world. Through this campaign, and an exhibit called "Bathroom Pass," these organizations are highlighting the solutions they are currently implementing and urging the U.S. Government, the World Bank, and other actors in the education and health sectors to bring sustainable WASH services to schools in the developing world.
One of the partners, Children Without Worms, is solving this problem by administering deworming medication while simultaneously advocating for hygiene education and increased access to water and sanitation facilities, which help prevent worm infestation in the first place.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero addressed the organizers of the campaign at an event in the "Bathroom Pass" exhibit. She stated, "The bottom line is this: if we are serious about improving child health, achieving universal primary education, ensuring gender equity and stimulating economic development, we need to be serious about providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene in schools."
She also emphasized the important role of students, like Nathan, to participate in service learning projects that help them engage in concrete actions to help others around the world. Earlier this year on World Water Day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasized that global water issues would be a priority for the U.S. Government.
Nathan took action by helping to start a club through H2O for Life to raise funds to help schools in developing countries; the money is used to improve access to clean water, build toilets and handwashing stations, and provide hygiene education. So far 120,000 students across the U.S. have participated in H2O for Life service learning programs. Nathan's story is highlighted in the "Bathroom Pass" exhibit, as are the stories of three students from Honduras, Madagascar and Nepal. The exhibit will be open to the public from October 25 through November 19 in Washington, DC.
The launch of this campaign coincides with Global Handwashing Day, October 15, when 200 million children, parents, teachers, celebrities and citizens in over 80 countries are raising attention for handwashing and for WASH in Schools. Today is also Blog Action Day and the theme this year is water.