Day of the African Child

June 16th is the International Day of the African Child.  It began in 1976 in Soweto, South Africa with thousands of black school children taking to the streets to march in protest of the inferior quality of their education and to demand to be taught in their own language.  Hundreds of children were shot down by security forces and in the following two weeks of protests more than 100 were killed and a thousand injured.  To honor the memory of those fallen and to draw attention to the plight of 30 million street children across the continent every June 16th since 1991 has been recognized as Day of the African Child.  The theme for June 16, 2011 is to spread awareness of the dangers street children face, promote the protection of them, and determine effective strategies for child care and protection.

What can you do?  Sometimes it seems like there are so many issues taking place all over the world that are out of your reach and there's nothing you can do about them from where you stand and you don't have the resources to make a dent in such a huge problem.  Of course fiscal donations are always helpful to small non profits but raising awareness is sometimes an even better way of helping those in need.  Spreading knowledge and being informed about the world around you by telling a friend, or two, or ten about a problem that means something to you could impact an issue that may be half a world away.

So what I am personally involved in of late is rainwater harvesting in semi-arid areas throughout Kenya to provide clean water sources for communities as well as irrigation technologies for small-scale farmers.  Growing up in Texas I was well aware of the issues surrounding water rights and water scarcity but until I visited Argentina in 2008 and saw firsthand the degradation of the water sources at the hands of corporations (ahem, Shell Oil) and individuals I never really connected this issue with human rights.  Despite its exclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there is a movement to add a 31st clause to the declaration that states: Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.

Environmental Protest in Delta de Tigre, Argentina 8.08
In Kenya, as a result of climate change, persistent droughts have plagued many semi-arid environments (SAE) culminating in water scarcity, food security, and diminishing sources of income.  These issues hurt the community as a whole and children in particular.  When farmers experience crop failures as a result of these droughts they are unable to produce enough food to feed their families or generate enough income to afford to purchase vegetables therefore malnutrition rates amongst children soar on a cyclical basis, dependent on the rainy seasons.

Assessments show that while most schools in the SAE of Kenya have inadequate water supply others have no on-site access to water at all.  The lack of clean water sources leads to water borne illnesses such as diarrhea and typhoid.  Since many of these schools do not have reliable sources of water within a reasonable distance children are made to walk many kilometers to the nearest water kiosks to collect water for drinking, support the school feeding program, and classroom use leading to tardiness and decreased school attendance.

Unfortunately malnutrition and diarrhea are mutually reinforcing conditions; malnutrition weakens a child's immune system and diarrhea reduces the absorption of nutrients.  To address this problem the Kenyan government introduced a school feeding program (SFP) using food provided by World Food Program (WFP).  The SFP is key in attracting children to attend school as it provides a source of food during the day which reduces malnutrition, a problem which stunts growth and damages cognitive ability, and boosts concentration.  However, the food provided through the SFP is not sufficient in quantity or variety and the WFP is reducing the supplies they provide.

The organization I work for, Greater Horn of Africa Rainwater Partnership/Kenya Rainwater Association Secretariat (GHARP/KRA), works with community based organizations (CBOs) within the SAE districts to implement rainwater harvesting technologies for community members and schools.  Their vision is for all people to have access to safe, reliable, and sustainable water supplies for productive uses.  When implementing projects in schools KRA builds a variety of rainwater harvesting systems and complementary technologies.  Activities include: roof guttering and water tank catchments, Ecosan and other ventilated improved pit latrines separated for boys and girls, farm ponds, micro-irrigation systems, vegetable gardens, tree nurseries, and capacity building.  If you're interested in learning more about our projects or what we are currently working on check out our facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

1 comment: