Main Navigation

Life-saving clean water and safe toilets

Toilet humour: school kids discuss hygiene matters with Catherine Gearing from Red Cross.

Your regular gifts have given children like 11-year-old May Ann access to life-saving clean water and safe toilets. And it's up to Red Cross staff like Catherine Gearing to make these projects reach the people who need them most.

May Ann washes her hands, fastidiously scrubbing beneath the nails. "It's so I don't spread germs and get sick," she explains, a shy smile spilling across her face.

The tap she's using and the water tank that feeds it are new to May Ann's small school in the mountains of La Union province, Philippines. Built by Red Cross with your help, they're designed to help keep children like May Ann healthy - and it's up to people like Catherine Gearing to make sure they do.

Catherine's job starts well before the first pipes are laid, when she carries out the research that will identify who is most in need of life-saving clean water and sanitation.

When Catherine spoke to the locals in La Union, for example, they told her that their children regularly suffered diarrhoea and gastroenteritis, and were forced to bring drinking water to school from home. Many children were also of Ibaloi background, an indigenous community that receives little support from other sources.

Once we knew this, our goal was to provide clean water and hygienic toilets in La Union's school, and train children to use them properly so they could avoid getting sick.

"There can be a tendency to just look at numbers - how many toilets have we built, rather than how people actually use those facilities and how it improves their health," Catherine says. "It's equally important to focus on behaviour change."

Catherine and her team then conducted a survey to see how much the children knew about sanitation and hygiene, so they could develop the most effective training - including different lessons for boys and girls.

"Men and women use toilet facilities differently and have different needs," says Catherine.

While the toilets and taps were being built, we trained a number of girls and boys as peer educators to model safe hygiene practices such as effective hand washing for their classmates.

With toilets flushing, taps running and our peer educators in action, the final step was to measure the impact on children's health. Regular focus groups are now held with teachers, students and families.

It may seem a complicated way to build a toilet. But what it means is that May Ann and her friends can keep coming to school without getting sick.

Photo: Australian Red Cross/Phil Brown

Thank you

Thanks to you, Red Cross is now working around the world to help people like May Ann safer and healthier lives.

And with your ongoing support, we'll keep providing life-changing water, sanitation, hygiene, health and first aid programs in developing countries, including our local Asia Pacific region.