from the March 22, 2006 edition
As experts ponder world water crisis, teenagers show creativity
By Monica Campbell | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

MEXICO CITY – As water experts meet in Mexico City to debate the world’s daunting water crisis, 15-year-old Dolly Akhter is here to share her simple approach.

She and 6,000 other girls canvass the slums of Dhaka, going door to door in the Bangladeshi capital to tout good hygiene. “We talk to families and especially the teenage girls about the importance of washing their hands,” explains Dolly.

She is among 100 or so children from more than 30 countries participating in the Children’s Water Forum held parallel to the 4th World Water Forum. While the adults argue over ideological differences, the youngsters showcase the grass-roots action that reaches those hardest hit by the lack of safe water and basic sanitation:

• Suresh Baral, 13, leads a club in rural Nepal that helps communities pay for toilets through microfinancing; Suresh’s toilet-financing project in Nepal, started with advice from UNICEF, is already producing results: Two-thirds of homes in his village of Pumbi Bhumbi now have toilets, he says. “Bit by bit, we’re managing to bring change,” he affirms.

• 9th-grader Happy Sisomphone directs a radio segment on sanitation, hygiene, and water-borne diseases. “In school we’re reminded that it’s important to wash your hands after playing with dirt,” says Happy, trained by UNICEF as a volunteer radio producer. “But we never learn why. So I interview people about the reasons we should be careful.”