Improving education through access to water in Vietnam

Published: 12 April 2013 11:00 CET

By Ly Nguyen in Viet Nam

Taking a break for a drink of water is one way that many students like to escape the classroom. But for students at Kim Hai Secondary School and Kim Hai Kindergarten in Ninh Binh province, Viet Nam, this was not an option – until a few months ago.

Following a needs assessment by the Viet Nam Red Cross, in partnership with the Japanese Red Cross, the National Society recently constructed large water tanks at both the secondary school and kindergarten. A third tank to built collect rain water at the kindergarten. These facilities allow hundreds of young children to have safe drinking water each day.

Prior to the Red Cross support, unless secondary school students brought their own water, children could remain dehydrated throughout the school day. The kindergarten had a water tank built by the commune, but it was not sufficient for the needs of 273 students.

“Teachers used to drive a tractor to people’s house to collect water and then drive it back to the school. Because the water was from the well and wasn’t filtered, it had a very fishy smell and couldn’t be used for cooking, only washing,” says Pham Thi Phuong, Principal of Kim Hai Kindergarten. “Now it is much better, since we can use the water from the tank built by the Red Cross for cooking, though we still need to use the water from the well for washing.”

While the Red Cross has made a difference for the children at the secondary school and kindergarten, there are many more who need further support in Ninh Binh’s other 141 schools.

“The Viet Nam Red Cross is trying to find partners who can provide additional support to our work, and help hundreds more children gain access to clean water,” says Le Xuan Mai, Ninh Binh Red Cross Vice President. “It makes all the difference in the daily life of children and their families; when the kids are healthy and can focus on their school work.”

Clean water and access to sanitation are a fundamental prerequisite for development. Improving water and sanitation has a huge impact on the health and livelihoods of people living in poverty. Although Viet Nam has improved its water supply situation recently, many of the poorest communities have not seen significant improvement. Progress towards providing access to sanitation and hygiene has been especially slow. A recent survey on sanitation revealed that 52 per cent of rural population have some sort of sanitation facilities, but only 12 per cent of the schools have hygienic sanitation facilities.#

Safe water and sanitation are essential to protect children’s health and their ability to learn at school.  In this sense, they are as vital as textbooks to a child’s education.

But improving access to water and sanitation means more than simply building a toilet or drilling a well. New facilities need to be paired with hygiene education programmes for children and teachers. This is the best way to ensure that toilets and water supplies are used properly so children can reap the maximum health benefits.  

See what children have learned about hygiene in Zimbabwe and how they are teaching others: