Visiting Madagascar with WaterAid to help get water for all

By Rebecca Alexander

UK Scout & teacher at The Oxford Academy

Throughout my Scouting life I’ve had many amazing opportunities to meet new people and experience exciting things. However nothing tops my recent, eye-opening trip to Madagascar with international charity WaterAid, to see how Scouts can help improve access to clean water and safe toilets across the world.

The Scout Movement in Madagascar has an incredible partnership with WaterAid, working together to educate communities about good hygiene, and campaigning for water and toilets for all.

Scouts in the UK have recently launched ‘A Million Hands’; an initiative to make positive changes in our local and international communities. Already 65,000 UK Scouts have committed to take action on improving access to clean water and sanitation. Together with fellow Scouts Jack and Hannah, we wanted to learn from our inspiring Malagasy counterparts, while also seeing first-hand what life is like without these basic resources. I can’t wait to share our experiences with Scouts back home.

During our trip we attended sessions on ensuring clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, and helped build facilities at the camp, such as ‘tippy taps’ – an easy way to wash hands where there is no running water available. The most interesting discussion was on how to educate communities about periods, and break down the taboos that surround this very natural process. It was brilliant to see all the Scouts, even the boys, engaging with this subject, and the fun way they approached what could have been an awkward topic.

These are the sorts of activities we can easily do back here in the UK to help Scouts gain an understanding of these important issues.

We saw how Scouts passed on their life-saving messages to the wider community through performances and activities at a ‘Dobodoboka’ – a carnival organised by the Scouts and WaterAid on a busy market day. It was great to see how integral the Scouts were to their community, and also how trusted they were. The local people call them ‘change makers’ – and they really are! The event was attended by journalists and the Mayor, ensuring an even greater impact.

Nearly 12 million people in Madagascar lack access to clean water and 21 million have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. As a result, 2,100 children die every year from diarrhoeal diseases.

We saw why the work of WaterAid and the Scouts is so important when we visited Ambonidobo, a village that relies on dirty water collected from a small pond full of mud and insects. We joined Feno and her friends as they carried their heavy jerry cans up a steep hill, which becomes even more treacherous during the rainy season. The cans were so heavy we struggled to lift them, and it was hard to imagine what it would be like to do that journey several times every day.

It was shocking to see the reality of their daily struggle, yet reassuring to know that WaterAid will be working in the community to introduce clean water and sanitation.

We saw the amazing difference these simple changes can make when we visited Manakasina, where WaterAid helped build five water points and household toilets. The community told us how there has been less disease since clean water was introduced, and more time to work and play. The village had such pride in their taps; everyone gathered round to show us, and they have formed a committee to manage and maintain the facilities. I was filled with hope that Feno and her family will also soon have clean water, and all the benefits that it brings.

It’s incredible how clean water and toilets, things we easily take for granted, make such a difference. I’m so proud that Scouts in the UK have chosen to take action on this important issue, and become ‘change-makers’ like the Malagasy Scouts. In just one week, we learned so much about how we can join together with our Scout family in Madagascar, and across the world, to help get clean water and toilets for everyone everywhere. Even by taking small actions, together we really can make a difference.