How can we make sure that new innovations are truly benefiting children? What is the point of great innovations if no one uses them in the end? Can we even call them innovations? These were few of the questions raised by university students from Uganda and Finland who started their first field work period in Northern Uganda in November 2014.

The students are part of the UniWASH project 2014-2016, which is implemented in partnership with UNICEF, Makerere University from Uganda, Aalto and Helsinki Universities from Finland, Biolan Ltd.,‑a private company from Finland specialized in environmental solutions ‑ as well as 5-8 Ugandan small businesses.

The university student teams are multidisciplinary: Mechanical, electronic, chemical, computer and civil engineering, design, anthropology, public health, economics, business, mathematics and architecture.

The students work together with primary school children in Northern Uganda and their aim is to jointly create innovations tackling water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues in schools. The thinking behind is that no technological solution works by itself. We have too many examples of these in the schools: abandoned latrines, water points, hand washing facilities etc.

© UNICEF/Uganda 2014/Frestadius. Students from Makerere, Aalto and Helsinki Universities conducting participatory workshops with school children in Purongo Hill Primary School, Nwoya, Northern Uganda. The aim of these workshops was to identify water, sanitation and hygiene issues in the school.
© UNICEF/Uganda 2014/Frestadius.
Students from Makerere, Aalto and Helsinki Universities conducting participatory workshops with school children in Purongo Hill Primary School, Nwoya, Northern Uganda. The aim of these workshops was to identify water, sanitation and hygiene issues in the school.

Reversing the idea that innovations would thrive merely from academia or business world, the UniWASH project is turning to the children themselves, who in the end are the users of these facilities. The innovations that we are talking about will be co-created with the primary school children themselves. The project is based on Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA). This means that children’s participation in the process is essential since after all it is their lives that can potentially change through the innovations.

During their first visit to the schools, the students found out that the children are very much aware of issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene. The implementation of good practices however seemed to be the problem due to several reasons. For example, some children did not want to use latrines because they did not have shoes and the floors were dirty. Some children were afraid of going to the latrines since they were too dark. On the other hand the latrines that had a window attracted insects and thus were not comfortable. There were no simple solutions available for most of the issues.

© UNICEF/Uganda 2014/Frestadius. Students from Makerere, Aalto and Helsinki Universities conducting participatory workshops with school children in Purongo Hill Primary School, Nwoya, Northern Uganda. The aim of these workshops was to identify water, sanitation and hygiene issues in the school.
© UNICEF/Uganda 2014/Frestadius.
Students from Makerere, Aalto and Helsinki Universities conducting participatory workshops with school children in Purongo Hill Primary School, Nwoya, Northern Uganda. The aim of these workshops was to identify water, sanitation and hygiene issues in the school.

Now the students have returned to their universities to continue developing their ideas for innovations that could solve some of these issues in the schools. In March, the students will return back to the schools to test the ideas and develop the prototypes and concepts further together with the children. The children are in the center of these innovations!

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