Its all in our Hands: Old solutions to a new world problem

In addressing the Covid-19 outbreak, many environmental justice short comings have been highlighted. Many schools do not have access to safe municipal water let alone a host of taps for regular handwashing.  This has provided not just a challenge but opportunity to seek low tech, cost effective and appropriate solutions towards keeping our children safe.

While all schools are provided with costly sanitizers, tippy-taps, a system of 2 litre bottles with drainage holes, is a proven, simple, cost effective and water saving way to provide more opportunities for learners to wash their hands.

Tippy taps are a water efficient and cost effective system to set up to help clean hands during and beyond Covid

The Global Search for Sustainable Schools(GSS)/Water Explorer project have been supporting schools in the KZN midlands and beyond, to ensure they have enough water saving options on site by setting up tippy tap washing points. Added to this, saving water could never be more important as we experience the dry season and continue to struggle with drought.

Learners from Nhlonhlweni Primary get ready to use their tippy taps

Once installed, the Grade 7’s at recipient schools were supported with an applied maths lesson to work out how much water can be saved if everyone uses tippy taps as opposed to normal running taps. In the case of Shea O’Conner Combined School, Nqobile Mpofana and her classmates worked out that on average 2 litres per person are used under a running tap per wash, compared with a tippy tap that requires just 50ml per wash.

“We worked out that we would need 144, five thousand litre jojo tanks just to keep the hands clean of 600 learners three times per day at our school for one year!” exclaimed Nqobile. She went on to say that “with tippy taps, the school would only need an equivalent 3, five thousand litre jojo tanks per year instead!

“We measured 2litres of water for each person, if they were to wash their hands under a running tap! “

“Learning this really opened my eyes,” commented Mpho Chinowe, “I am inspired to teach people this method and will set one up at home for my family”.

Do the Maths!! That’s a lot of water!

GSS/Water Explorer programme have also helped teachers in their preparation for re-introducing learners back to school by giving them workshops on the Corona virus.  Many of the beliefs that people have about the virus is often informed by unsubstantiated media reports, rumours and conspiracy theories, our role was to filter the fiction and deliver the facts.

Importantly the basics were explained such as how does one become infected; how do we protect ourselves and others.

Zama Sibetha from Donnybrook Primary said “The workshop was very informative, we haven’t had any specific workshops on the virus, so it has helped to improve our understanding. It is good to know that school is possibly one of the safer places to be as we have learned that children are not infected as easily and also carry a much smaller viral load and don’t therefore, infect others as easily”.

GSS South Africa have been supporting schools with Covid 19 and Environment workshops

Importantly teachers were helped to understand the connection between our relationship with the environment and how our actions are contributing to many of the global health epidemics we see today. In comparison to previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu, present lifestyle mortalities like Type 2 diabetes  and the far more sinister realities of climate change, entirely dwarf our preoccupation with Corona.  The workshop was intended to get people thinking about real meaningful change for the long-term sustainability of people and the planet.  Ziyanda Ndlela, from Mphephetha Primary commented “Humans have always turned a blind eye to nature, this virus is a wake-up call, the workshop helped us to start seeing the links between our actions that cause things like climate change and the rise of diseases”.

Phumelelani Primary often run out of water in the dry winter season, tippy taps are a water saving solution to keeping hands clean.

Sthembile Tshabalala at teacher at Kwangubeni Primary school commented, “I found the information on nutrition particularly interesting. It brought back forgotten knowledge systems and the value of an immune boosting, nutritional plant-based diet found in plants that grow in our gardens.” She went onto say that teachers had now felt empowered to protect themselves. “Thank you for helping us to be proactive to protect ourselves, to save water, and bring back our culture”.

Another more sophisticated Tippy tap set-up

Words and photographs: Bridget Ringdahl & Julia Colvin

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