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Blog Selma Hilgersom. WASH & Learn: a partnership beyond boundaries

 

By Selma Hilgersom, Programme Officer Africa @Simavi
Amsterdam, 27 February

WASH & Learn! is a programme that brings together the skills and expertise of different organisations and thereby unlocks a great amount of creativity and well-designed WASH sustainability mechanisms. It is an ongoing and unique partnership of Aqua for All, Simavi and six East African NGOs. I already noticed the enthusiasm of Tanzanian organisation TDFT and UFUNDIKO when I started working there in 2016.

However, in the WASH & Learn! meeting that was hosted by EMESCO in Kibaale, Uganda last year, I captured the fun and substantial benefits of joining forces. Learning is not considered something that is picked up by coincidence. Simavi’s regional learning coordinator Linda Lilian captures the most important skills and points for development per organisation and works closely together with all partners to maximize the learning process within the programme. Additionally, valuable lessons are shared among the partners via different communication channels (WhatsApp has proven to be quite effective here).

There are two components of the programme that I came to value in particular; the systematic approach to achieving sustainability and the exploration of new business development within the NGOs. Two examples of the tools that are developed and used within the programme are the Risk Assessment and the Cost Recovery Planning.

Using Tools

The risk assessment creates an opportunity to sit together and think about potential risks that can come up before, during and after the construction of WASH facilities at schools. This enables reviewing potential risks and developing ways to mitigate these risks well in advance. It also ensures that responsibilities are clear and agreed upon. A clear sign of the usefulness of these tools is that local governments have started to promote these tools beyond the scope of the programme as well.

The Cost Recovery Planning tool helps schools find opportunities to create income to invest in WASH facilities. Partner organisations EMESCO, HEWASA and JESE in Uganda have for example supported schools in starting up their craft production and agricultural activities that are sold to generate income, while TDFT has initiated the construction and operation of toilets. Kenyan partner CABDA has experience in linking football with investments in WASH facilities. It should be noted here that the primary activities of the schools are always given priority, and that all activities are done on a voluntary basis and that school management, students, parents, the communities and local government stakeholders are supporting the activities. Often the Cost Recovery activities fit within the life skills training curriculum of the schools. Pupils can learn valuable life skills from the cost recovery planning activities, such as farming and craftwork. In Uganda, time is reserved for these activities in the curriculum.

Innovation-wise, a lot of new things have been done by the partners. Multiple partners have been working on new ways of water delivery – making use of digital payment systems, newly-designed water vending machines by UFUNDIKO that have built-in speakers to share the latest (health) messages to the community and ICT monitoring platforms that provide real-time insight into the status of the water points.

But, wait. There is more. One of the things that result from working together is sharing practical lessons that go beyond the pre-defined activities. For example, all partners have taken up the making of reusable menstrual pads and providing information about menstrual health.

So – all is gold and groovy? No, it is not. As with every programme, there are challenges. Lacking capacities at schools to properly manage WASH at their premises and creating diversified business models for water supply with the support of Aqua for All are among the hurdles we face. However, if there is one thing I have learned from being involved in this programme: WASH and learning together is far more productive than WASH and learning by yourself. With the trust and expertise of all the partners combined – I am very confident that we can drive positive change. I look forward to continue working in this partnership the coming year and I am excited to see what the next steps will be after the programme ends.

About WASH and Learn!

The WASH & Learn! programme integrates community and school WASH projects in three adjacent countries in East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Together with six local NGO partners, Simavi implements this programme, focusing on water supply and sanitation, and hygiene behaviour improvements.

Simavi continues to work with communities on creating a positive and enabling environment in which every stakeholder is active and we are dedicated to ensuring that participants use the WASH services properly.

More information on the WASH and Learn! programme can be found here.

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