Washington — Peace Corps volunteers around the world are working to increase access to clean water and improve health and hygiene among people in the communities they serve.
Volunteers work at the grass-roots level in collaboration with local governments, clinics, nongovernmental organizations and their communities to raise awareness of the importance of clean water and sanitation, and design and build potable water sources and sewage and irrigation systems, the agency said in a press release marking International World Water Day on March 22.
First designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Water Day brings attention to inequities in access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and sufficient food and energy services.
In Indonesia, Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Borden of Benicia, California, recently finished a project that brought three hand-washing stations to a local school. More than 550 students and staff will benefit from the new hand-washing stations, which each feature four faucets, a sink and a soap dispenser.
"At this school, there were no sinks and soap was not easily available," Borden said. "What's more, the school could only provide enough water to operate toilets for half a day. Additionally, many students believed rinsing with water alone is comparable to washing with soap. Considering these conditions, it's no surprise students fall ill so often."
At a ceremony held to celebrate the project's completion, government health workers demonstrated proper hand-washing techniques, and students and staff committed to using and maintaining the hand-washing stations.
Peace Corps volunteer Jennifer Vettel of Gainesville, Florida, recently celebrated the completion of a clean water system that serves two communities in the Dominican Republic. The communities previously obtained water from contaminated rivers and springs nearby -- the same rivers where people kept their pigs, washed their motorcycles and bathed.
The project included the construction and installment of 9 kilometers of PVC pipes, a 30,000-liter water tank and a spring intake structure. The new system will distribute clean water to more than 70 homes, two churches and one primary school, providing easy access to clean water.
"We will be training plumbers and health promoters in the coming months to tackle the sustainability and sanitation concerns in the communities," Vettel said. "I am confident that in 20 or 30 years when I return, this system will still be functioning and providing clean drinking water to all."
Peace Corps volunteer Andre Heard of Pinecrest, Florida, recently completed a project that is delivering clean drinking water to his community in Namibia. Three 10,000-liter water tanks were connected to a local school, and a solar-powered pump was installed in a new borehole well that is providing clean water from 50 meters down. Previously, people in Heard's community had to travel to a nearby river that was contaminated and home to crocodiles to get water.
"Now our school has running water -- there are two water taps at school for the kids, and our teacher houses also have running water," Heard said. "Additionally, we ran a pipe out to the community so that they could fetch water without having to come into the school."
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to foster a better understanding among Americans and people of other countries. Since then, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages have served in 139 countries worldwide.