UNICEF Ambassador Hayley Westenra is in Ghana this week, seeing for herself the needs of some of the poorest children for safe water and education.

Hayley Westenra – UNICEF’s youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador and an internationally renowned New Zealand singer – is undertaking a four-day program in Ghana from 23-26 September.

In rural Northern Ghana, Hayley will see firsthand the impact on children of drinking water infected with Guinea Worm. Once the water-borne parasites get into children’s bodies they can grow up to a metre in length and create painful swelling and blisters. Water-bourne Guinea Worm is a major problem for children in parts of Ghana. Anyone getting water from a pond or well previously used by a sufferer of Guinea Worm can be infected. Little children are the most common victims, accounting for two thirds of cases. If they’re thirsty, they naturally drink whatever is handy.

“Apart from the terrible pain and health effects involved, children’s normal lives are disrupted and their studies inevitably suffer,” said Hayley. “I will be very interested to speak to young child victims of Guinea Worm and to be briefed about UNICEF plans to provide safe drinking water to pre-schools in one of the worst-affected areas.”

To protect young children from Guinea Worm and other diseases in unsafe water, Hayley is supporting UNICEF NZ in bringing safe water to 30 pre-schools in one of the worst-affected areas. This includes training caretakers and mechanics so that the provision of safe water is a sustainable solution that can be looked after locally.

Hayley will also interact with children on water and hygiene education issues during visits to a number of kindergartens, as well as observing classes in action. UNICEF NZ support has helped boost the quality of education by training more than 140 kindergarten teachers and attendants – as part of a country-wide project – as well as providing reading kits and teaching materials.

A highlight of the program for Hayley will be meeting some of the almost 6,000 girls living in deprived rural communities who have benefited from receiving UNICEF bicycles. Hayley launched the UNICEF NZ-sponsored bikes for girls program during her previous visit to Ghana in 2005.

“The bikes program has proved a great success for girls who have to commute long distances from home to school. [They] are a practical and cost effective way for girls to get to school quickly and safely, as well as boosting their school attendance rates and academic performance.”

Girls in rural communities face major challenges to attending school, including long distances between home and school; time and energy taken to commute daily; and risk of sexual abuse and other forms of violence during travel.

UNICEF has purchased 5,700 bicycles and 60 tricycles for disadvantaged girls and children in rural communities in deprived districts. The bicycles were for school girls between 12 and 20 who have to commute long distances. The tricycles help children with special education needs.

“I am very privileged to be able to return to Ghana and meet face to face with children who are struggling with difficulties every day that are almost unimaginable to people in Western countries. I see the trip as very much about raising awareness of the conditions for children in need and how people can support UNICEF’s work to improve children’s lives in Ghana.”


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