Education, WASH and Girls’ Opportunities in Tanzania

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By: Ashley Holmer, Founder and Executive Director, Red Sweater Project

It seems in the developed world we are consistently debating what is the best health care system: public versus private, access versus quality, confidentiality versus national reform for the public good.

But what about where there are little to no health care provisions at all to even debate?

This is often the situation in rural Tanzania, where people are less likely to visit a clinic or hospital when in need of the services of a health care professional. Miles from the nearest clinic or dispensary, the majority turn to local “proven” herbal concoctions, tribal medicines or simply, prayer. So, how can one receive health services in a place where there is only one trained doctor for every 39,000 people?

My answer has always been continuing education. For the last eight years, I’ve worked to bring education to rural areas of the country where most children halt their education after the sixth grade. Currently in Tanzania, while nearly 100 percent of children enroll in free primary school, only 7 percent graduate from high school. So, how do we train the next generation of doctors, nurses, dentists and counselors in the developing world if so few can obtain an adequate education? The Red Sweater Project provides education to children in rural areas whose families are unable to afford the drastically prohibitive government school fees.

There can be no ignoring the connection between education and better health for all. The good news is we don’t have to create an entire health care system to instantly improve health in the developing world. For example, building proper latrine or composting toilets at schools increases female attendance, while ensuring regular handwashing at schools. Given that regular handwashing alone could reduce 40 percent of cases of diarrhea or more, this could have an immense impact.

These simple actions are changing the lives of children like 15 year-old Amina Ramadhani, a current student who, one year ago, was deliberating her then bleak future with no means to afford to attend secondary school. But today, Amina is attending Mungere Secondary School, which was opened in 2012 and is just a 5-minute walk from her house. Not only is she receiving the education she deserves, but the information and classes she attends on safe health practices and proper sanitation also travel home with her, where she educates her family on these important lessons.

Continuing education in the classroom must be regarded as important as teaching knowledge and skills regarding good hygiene, which has proven to keep children like Amina out of the hospital and inside the classroom.

For more on the WASH and Women’s Health blog series coordinated by WASH advocates, click here, or visit WASH Advocates.