by Rosalyn Kutsch, summer assistant to the Project WET Foundation
Last summer I had the opportunity to go on a cultural exchange to Mongolia through the U.S. State Department. After being accepted into the program, I decided that I needed to find a way to interact with the local community beyond my host family. Project WET came to the rescue with their interactive activities for kids. After meeting with Senior Vice President John Etgen, I learned some of the most effective techniques for teaching a large group of children as well as some of the activities that would be most relevant in Mongolia. I was unsure of whether I would have a translator or even a group of kids to do the activities with when I got there, but as long as I had the tools, I knew would find a way to use them.
Project WET stands ready to empower anyone interested in promoting water education. They have partners ranging from big corporations and global NGOs to local camps and schools and even occasional youthful student volunteers on international exchanges. I recently assisted a Project WET workshop held to train participants in The Traveling School bound for Africa this fall. The Traveling School sends high school-aged girls to learn and travel in either in Africa or South America, and they often use Project WET materials during their adventures. We taught some of this year's participants useful learning activities and games, gave them copies of the educator guide and provided children's books and other tools so that they can teach other participants as well as local children and educators. That is precisely what Project WET specializes in-equipping people in many different circumstances to teach effectively about the importance of water.
A VISIBLE NEED
I hadn't been on the ground in Mongolia long before I saw a need to use the Project WET materials I had brought. My host stay was in Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai, in central Mongolia. It was relatively rural, with about 8,000 people. Right away I noticed major differences in sanitation and hygiene between the more modern capital city, Ulaanbaatar, and this smaller city in the countryside. The majority of the population did not have access to running water, as they lived in yurt-like structures called gers. In addition, I saw few toilets in the time I stayed in Kharkhorin. Instead, every home had a hut with a hole in the floor as a toilet. While there were community shower houses, the river was the primary source of water for bathing and playing. However, we visited a gold mine close to the city that had been shut down because it had been caught dumping chemicals directly into the river. Because of a lack of garbage collection, the river also served as a dumping ground. Unfortunately, children and families have no choice but to use this water for drinking, bathing, and playing.
It was clear that there were many potential health and environmental issues that could be explained to children through the activities Project WET had provided to me. We started with a small group river clean-up, collecting more than a dozen garbage bags' worth of waste.
EDUCATION AS SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE
Then, one of the chaperones we had met in Ulaanbaatar who lived in my region and worked as an elementary school teacher was able to get a group of about 20 energetic kids together for a morning of water education. Using the teacher as a translator, we spent over an hour and a half playing games and learning about water. Through "Healthy Habits Tag," a discussion about disease prevention and a game about water pollution, I was able to highlight some of the water issues the community faced, including the lack of clean water, the absence of cultural norms in regard to handwashing and the potential dangers of polluted water sources. It ended up being a perfect way to interact with children. I left the translated activities with the teacher, and later in the year I learned that she had run another Project WET workshop to reach more kids! It goes to show that education is the ultimate sustainable resource: Project WET's lessons can be taught over and over again, creating healthy communities all over the world.
Being a small part of Project WET-both in last year's activities in Mongolia and this year's as an assistant-has enabled me to appreciate the importance of their work. The Project WET Foundation understands how education can lead to positive behavior changes and has reached millions of children who would have otherwise lacked the knowledge to safeguard their own health and protect their water resources. From my vantage point this summer, I've been able to see why they are so successful. The hard work and long hours put in by every staff member demonstrates their passion in the work carried out here. This organization has already positively impacted millions of lives around the world and simply won't stop until every community in the world has access to water education.