Project #8454

Orbis Provides Clean Water to Save Sight, Ethiopia

by Orbis Ireland
The school toilet before Orbis
The school toilet before Orbis' intervention

Founded only five years ago, Lima Tsala Secondary School already hosts 269 students, with a staff of ten teachers. Until very recently, all 279 people were forced to share one poorly constructed toilet. There were no facilities for pupils or staff to wash their hands, and long queues often resulted in open defecation in the school grounds. The school faced many challenges, but a lack of toilet facilities was one of the most pressing.

An impact survey in the area showed that this particular district is in fact free from the blinding disease, trachoma. However, trachoma spreads easily and quickly in areas where sanitation is poor, and the school could have been the perfect breeding ground. Keen to ensure that this didn’t happen, Orbis took the opportunity to transfer a portion of its budget to build two brand new, sanitary toilets - greatly reducing the risk of possible infection for both students and staff.

The director of the school, Mr Sisay, said:

“It has always been our wish to provide our teachers and students a well standardized and ventilated latrine in the school. Previously both female and male teachers and students had been using one old latrine together which has no privacy and running water for hand washing. But this year, our dream came true when Orbis came to our school and intervened. Now two standard latrines are constructed (one for male students and one for female). Now our school provides a healthy environment for the whole school community. We are so grateful to Orbis”. 

Children across the world are so similar. They all enjoy laughing and playing with friends. Unfortunately alongside this is potential insecurity as they grow from children into adolesence. Every school child deserves the right to know they can go to the bathroom in private, without the fear of a school mate or teacher interrupting.

Your support has enabled Orbis to ensure 269 children have the privacy they deserve. Thank you! 

The new toilets - thanks to Orbis
The new toilets - thanks to Orbis
Washing hands at the local clean water source
Washing hands at the local clean water source

Orbis recognises the importance of educating communities in Ethiopia about water related issues. With that in mind we, at Orbis, would like to take this chance to tell you a little bit about Trachoma, a devastating eye disease which ultimately blinds it victims. This disease can be controlled by providing clean water to these communities and eductaing them on the importance of personal hygiene. 

What is Trachoma?

Trachoma is an eye infection which can result in blindness. It is a leading cause of preventable blindness in the world and happens in areas where people live with limited access to clean water and health care.

The infection normally occurs in childhood but people tend not to become blind until adulthood. The disease progresses over years, eventually causing scarring on the inside of the eyelid with the eyelashes eventually turning inward. This rubbing of the eyelashes on the cornea leads to severe vision loss and eventually blindness.

It is estimated that six million people worldwide are blind due to trachoma and more than 150 million people are in need of treatment *

Whats water got to do with any of this?

 Water plays a huge role in preventing the disease;

Increased water availability means that faces can be cleaned more thoroughly. It also means that, for example, fingers and bedclothes, carriers of the organism between one person and another, can be kept cleaner, decreasing the spread of the disease.

Overall, easily accessible water supply help people to maintain a cleaner domestic environment thereby making the area less attractive to the flies which spread the disease.

What is Orbis doing to help this situation?

We work to ensure that communities in Ethiopia have access to clean water sources; We also help to educate people on how best to avoid this preventable disease and overall we strive toward the complete eradication of Trachoma altogether.

*The World Health Organization (WHO)

Collecting clean water for cooking and cleaning
Collecting clean water for cooking and cleaning
A mother and her two children
A mother and her two children

Environmental change in a community is necessary for long-term protection from trachoma. The disease persists where people live in poverty with crowded living conditions and where there is insufficient basic infrastructure for water, sanitation, and waste disposal. Unless such conditions change, trachoma will return after antibiotic treatment.

The World Health Organisation has set the year 2020 as the target to eliminate blindness resulting from trachoma. This is a difficult but achievable target. To get there we must have inclusive community-based programmes that offer freedom from trachoma for all, but that also specifically and deliberately target women and girls.

Gender-specific household tasks place women at an increased risk for trachoma infection. For instance, women are more likely to have higher rate of trachoma because they are the primary caregivers of children. 

Hygiene should be understood from a gender perspective. Gender informs hygiene behaviors, which place men and women at different risks. Although women are responsible for the hygiene of their children, they may not be empowered to make decisions about the allocation of household resources for hygiene purposes. This includes access to water, soap, towels, or washcloths (if even used) and the time to teach hygiene to children. 

When water is not easily accessible, face-washing declines. Communities may be reluctant to use precious water for hygenic purposes which reduces water for more basic sustenance activities. 

Women must be reached with health education so that they can protect themselves, and their children, from trachoma. They must be reached with treatment to cure their current infections. They must have access to water and sanitation. 

A young girl washes her hands with the clean water
A young girl washes her hands with the clean water

I recently returned from a trip to Bonke in southern Ethiopia where Orbis is implementing the SAFE strategy in order to eliminate a blinding and life destroying eye disease - trachoma. 

I met with my Ethiopian colleagues who explained the four aspects of the SAFE strategy - Surgery, Antibiotics, Face Washing and Environment. Each of these four components are vital in order to eradicate this horrific disease. I was priviledged enough to witness, firsthand the impact of Orbis' work. 

Our first stop was the local school, which is situated in the most beautiful setting amongst the lush green hills of southern Ethiopia - a landscape that surprised me. There we were greeted with a welcome song and dance followed by a drama showing one boy being brought to the local health centre and being cured of trachoma and the other being brought to the traditional healer and suffering immense pain without being cured. 

These children are part of school eye care clubs and they teach their fellow students, families and communities the importance of washing their face and hands in order to keep diseases, like trachoma, at bay. 

The students were so proud to show off their Orbis-funded toilets at the school, built in 2013. Prior to this the kids would defacate in the surrounding fields, spreading disease. The use of toilets is a massive contributing factor to the reduction of trachoma in these areas. 

We were also shown a nearby clean water supply. The children were so proud to show us both the toilets and the water supply. I was delighted to see so many clean faces and to hear the school children's enthusiasm for demonstrating good sanitation. 

The development in this area is immense and Orbis is making real strides in eliminating this painful and torturous eye disease. That is only half the story however, Orbis is completely transforming this region by improving the awareness surrounding personal hygiene and providing much needed clean water.

This impact is due to the support of people like you - thank you!  

This girl keeps her face and eyes clean
This girl keeps her face and eyes clean
Orbis Eye Care Clubs
Orbis Eye Care Clubs
Women's Group Leaders educate through song

In rural areas of Ethiopia, women are three to four times more likely than men to have blinding trachoma. Thus, control of trachoma is likely to benefit women more than men and educating women is likely to be more impactful in the reduction of trachoma. 

Training of Women's Group Leaders (WGL) and Community Health Agents (CHA) - who are all women - creates the opportunity to increase eye health awareness and address the problem through the active participation of women. 

Importantly, through repairing a number of water schemes across the region of Gama Gofa, Derashe and Konso in southern Ethiopia, Orbis has reduced the distance women have to travel to fetch water.

Now, women are able to better participate in economic activities, take better care of their own and their children’s hygiene and contribute to environmental improvement.

Women are taught about eye health care
Women are taught about eye health care
Women are responsible for fetching water
Women are responsible for fetching water

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Organization Information

Orbis Ireland

Location: Sandyford, Dublin - Ireland
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Diane Weatherup
Sandyford, Dublin Ireland

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