A healthier environment

Totonicapán, Guatemala, May 2017

he community of Las Flores, Olinpeque, Quetzaltenango, has carried out an innovative process to train the population of the area regarding their water and sanitation problems and how to solve them. The methodology includes the development of a community video to show the problems that they themselves identify regarding water and environmental sanitation in order to encourage reflection and the search for solutions.

In Guatemala, 3 out of every 10 persons lack access to a water supply and 5 out of every 10 lack access to adequate sanitation. The lack of an adequate water, sanitation and hygiene system particularly affects girls and boys in rural areas, increasing child mortality and malnutrition.

It is estimated that one-fourth of all chronic malnutrition cases are directly caused by diarrhea during the first two years of life and 88 percent of diarrhea cases are caused by inadequate water and sanitation conditions.

11-year-old Emilyn Chiguix in Olinpeque, Quetzaltenango talks about the importance of community videos.

Emilyn Chiguix is an 11-year-old sixth grade girl who attends the community school. In this intermediate stage between childhood and adolescence, despite her young age, Emilyn clearly understands the advantages of living in a pollution-free environment and has been one of many children who have been educated on this subject through community videos that show the problem of pollution and methods for fighting it. Emilyn says she watched the video at the health post and remembers that it showed how polluted the ravines were. In her own words:

“It helps us not to pollute in order to be healthy. For example, we cut down trees and we have no water, because water comes from trees. Most of the trash consists of snack wrappers.”

“For example, I eat an ice cream and should keep the wrapper until I get home and can throw it in the trash can. The video has helped me learn not to pollute the environment.”

Emilyn also notes that the videos have helped her contribute to hygiene at home.

Josué Álvarez is a 10 year old boy who lives in Olinpeque, Quetzaltenango.

Josué Álvarez, 10, is Emilyn’s cousin and says:

“I like living in a clean environment because it doesn’t smell bad. I like living here because there is little pollution. The video taught me many things, because in the past they used to tell me that throwing out garbage was bad and I didn’t pay attention. For example, I bought ice cream and left the wrapper on a windowsill. The video has helped me a lot because I no longer leave garbage behind. I would tell other children that they shouldn’t leave garbage behind or cut trees, or we won’t be able to breathe.”

Santa Macario is one of the adults who develop the community videos. She notes that they made this video to show the situation in the community and adopt practices that would improve health. She and other women are in charge of developing and disseminating this material among the population.

Sonia Saquich is also part of the local communication network. She says that they started working on the video in 2014 when they realized that many people left trash near water wells, where the springs are located. Once the video had been recorded they started showing it to people as a communication tool to shed light on the problem and encourage them to adopt more environmentally-friendly habits. She notes that people are no longer leaving garbage where they used to. Some people changed and others need more education. The main result of this video is that since now there is no waste near water springs, the incidence of diarrhea among children under five has decreased.

Sonia also reports that the group that made the video is made up of six women from the aforementioned network; that the recording process took place one day each week at places where pollution had been identified previously, most of it near water springs. Some of them operated the camera and others identified sources of pollution. There are three main operators but they all learned how to use the equipment.

Two children from the community of Las Flores in Olinpeque, Quetzaltenango learn the importance of water and sanitation through community video

She says that there is no music on the videos, only the voice of the person who is recording, who reports what they find in each place. Finally, she says that children are a crucial group that watches the video, because they understand and learn from it.

A third member of the team that develops these videos in the community of Las Flores is Azucena Colombo, 22. She is a bright young woman and a good representative of her generation thanks to her critical attitude regarding other inhabitants’ behaviors and the results achieved.

She notes that since this is such a small town everybody knows each other and that although there are people who support her work, others who are invited to participate in cleaning up and similar activities, including older people, continue polluting and do not contribute.

“This process has allowed the women who developed this video to learn and reflect regarding their own behaviors in protecting the environment” says Azucena.

UNICEF and its partners work to prevent and reduce the high rates of chronic malnutrition y supporting comprehensive policies and programs that improve environmental sanitation practices.

UNICEF also develops strategies and tools to raise awareness regarding these problems and ecourage new behaviors at the community level to generate sustainable changes at scale.

One of those tools is community videos, which allow local players to identify and solve water and environmental sanitation problems and carry out advocacy efforts among their authorities. This is a strategy used by the Municipal Food and Nutritional Security Commission (known by its Spanish acronym as COMUSAN) through the Communications Subcommittee, with interagency membership. The videos are also viewed and discussed at community meetings, with leaders and within COMUSAN. In certain cases this helps support the community in managing the problem with institutional assistance.

Whenever we ensure safe water and sanitation for children, there is hope.

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UNICEF Guatemala

UNICEF trabaja para salvar la vida de las niñas, niños y adolescentes en Guatemala. Para defender y garantizar el cumplimento de sus derechos.