The goal of this project was to improve the living standards of the street children of Puerto Vallarta by helping to tackle one of the many underlying causes contributing to the poverty. The provision of clean water will help to prevent the many diseases and health issues associated with contaminated water. Furthermore, by building a water house within the school grounds it is hoped that the project will also help to increase school attendance with all the benefits this brings.
Loma Bonita Primary School is situated in a particularly deprived area of Puerto Vallarta. Many children here go weeks without showering and have little idea of hygiene. They have no toothbrush or share one with their whole family and many have head lice throughout their lives.
Just a Drop’s local partner New Life Mexico implements a programme of health and hygiene to teach children to wash their hands, clean their teeth and about body hygiene. This is vital to reduce sanitation related diseases. Many children do not have access to clean water however which negates the effect of the sanitation training.
To address this in November 2012, Just a Drop in partnership with New Life Mexico, began constructing a water house, with connection to main city water, drainage and electricity supplies at Loma Bonita School. The project was sponsored by Thomas Cook Children’s Charity.
Loma Bonita’s school building houses two separate schools. One operates in the morning from 7.30am – 1.00pm and the second school starts at 2.00pm and closes at 6.30 pm. The morning school is called ‘Valentin Gomez Frias’ and the afternoon school is called ‘Efrain Gonzalez Luna’.
The schools are often an escape for many of the pupils with child labour being extremely common in Puerto Vallarta. Either before or after going to school, children work to support their financially deprived families. While some pack bags in supermarkets or lay bricks on building sites, others are pushed onto the streets. Desperate to earn money, they become involved in a number of activities ranging from singing on buses and opening taxi doors to stealing.
Children also tend to try to sell goods such as chewing gum or flowers to Puerto Vallarta’s foreign visitors. Coexisting on the streets often leads them to missing school and eventually dropping out of full time education altogether. Children are then likely to leave their homes and live on the streets permanently.
More vulnerable then ever, they become easy targets for drug dealers which can lead to serious drug addiction and prostitution. Destitution, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poor academic performance, gang rivalry, child labour and prostitution is common in this district. Of the 1400 residents the majority are children. 92% of them are suffering family problems from neglect to physical aggression and abuse. Parents are often illiterate, alcoholics or drug addicts.
Most families in this area suffer from severe financial hardship by earning less than the minimum wage (£2.50 for an eight hour shift) and housing conditions are exceptionally poor. Only routes used by local buses are paved, all others are dirt tracks prone to severe flooding during the rainy season causing health and hygiene issues with human and industrial waste flowing uncontrollably.
Drug addiction, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases are some of the major risks for all children in Mexico due to the lack of available information. The children in the deprived areas of Puerto Vallarta are particularly susceptible to these problems as the overwhelming majority suffer from varying degrees of economic, social, physical and mental abuse and are consequently classified as ‘at risk’.
The water provided by the local water company, Sepal, in theory is clean. When it leaves the Sepal plant it is safe to drink (Mexican standards of clean water, not international standards); however, the pipes and drainage system in Puerto Vallarta is archaic and thus the water becomes contaminated by the time it reaches a tap.
Filtered water is therefore sold on trucks (by companies owned by Coke and Pepsi) to all residents in 20 litre bottles at a cost of £1.20. Families living in deprived areas or living on the minimum wage are unable to afford the cost of filtered water and therefore drink contaminated water, or water from the rivers, which leads to multiple health issues which they are too poor to resolve with medicine. In the summer months many children also suffer from severe dehydration.
All of this particularly impacts on children and as a result on their school attendance. This in turn impacts on their ability to avoid the life of crime, gangs and addiction that they find themselves surrounded by.
Loma Bonita school had no clean drinking water available to the students, the school had no other alternative but to let students drink dirty water.
What we did
The water is filtered and purified before it is made available in a purpose built water house. This is a construction which provides a housing for the taps and is finished with ceramic tiles for easy cleaning and maintenance. To look at, it resembles an outside washroom. The waste water runs off into the mains drain.
Construction commenced in November and was completed in December 2012. Due to flooding in the rainy season (June to October each year), the engineer in charge of the construction made the decision to raise the Water House to playground level within the school, thus ensuring that the foundations of the water house were secure. Due to the Christmas holidays it was decided not to install the system and taps until after the Christmas period as there was a chance they would be stolen over the holiday period.
The electrics, plumbing and system were completed on 8th January 2013 and the children were able to commence drinking clean water. The official opening took place on Monday 14th January 2013.
In January 2013 the schools combined had 385 children and 24 teachers benefitting from this project. The school is going to be expanded in coming years and the number of students attending will increase. The Water House that has been built will be able to manage the additional capacity when added. The total number of children and adults expected to benefit in the future will be approximately 1,000.
A tap has been fitted to the side of the system block, to allow 20L plastic bottles to be filled for the classrooms. Children also fill bottles up (in some cases multiple bottles) to take home. Teachers tell us that they believe each student drinks at least four bottles of water a day from the system.
All of this will improve the health of these children and their families, reducing diseases caused by drinking dirty water. It will also encourage school attendance which will give these children a better start in life than if they ended up on the streets instead with the associated risks this brings.
Date of Project: January 2013