Water: Source of Health, Source of Illness
Although we need water to sustain life, it can also serve as a conduit of illness and even death. In this unit, students examine the connections between water and disease in four West African countries. Students will become familiar with general concepts related to waterborne illness by viewing photographs and reading vignettes collected from in-service Peace Corps Volunteers. The unit will culminate with students working in groups to devise a strategy to fight one waterborne illness in rural Africa.
Seven to ten 45-minute classes
Health, language arts, visual arts, theater arts,
How does water affect people's health?
How can complex ideas be conveyed without written words?
Map of Africa
The following images from the Water in Africa website:
Cameroon—CM0212, CM0224, CM0225, CM00230, CM0233, CM0235, CM0714
Togo—TG0117, TG0130, TG0115
Ghana—GH0304, GH0308, GH0622
Health and Nutrition Retrieval Chart (PDF)
Health and Nutrition Vignettes for Ghana, Cameroon, and Guinea,
Waterborne Illness Research Chart (PDF)
Research materials (Internet or traditional)
Evaluation Rubric (PDF)
Internet Research on Waterborne Illnesses (PDF)
Health Standard 2—Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health
Benchmark—Knows cultural beliefs, socioeconomic considerations, and other environmental factors within a community that influence the health of its members
Benchmark—Understands how various messages from the media, technology, and other sources impact health practices
Benchmark—Knows local, state, federal, and international efforts to contain an environmental crisis and prevent a recurrence
Visual Arts Standard 1—Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts
Benchmark—Understands what makes different art media, techniques, and processes effective (or ineffective) in communicating various ideas
Theatre Arts Standard 5—Understands how informal and formal theater, film, television, and electronic media productions create and communicate meaning
Benchmark—Applies research from print and nonprint sources to script writing, acting, design, and directing choices
Language Arts Standard 2—Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
Benchmark—Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas
Language Arts Standard 4—Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Benchmark—Organizes information and ideas from multiple sources in systematic ways
National Science Education Standards—Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Explore the connections between water and disease.
- Be able to describe the causes of, and prevention strategies for, a major waterborne illness.
- Develop a multifaceted strategy to encourage prevention of waterborne illness in rural Africa.
1. Pose the essential question "How does water affect health?" Lead a discussion that brings out the connection between water and health and between water and disease. Ask students to make a list of ways in which water sustains life and then to list ways in which water can cause illness or death. Have students share their lists with a partner and then make a class list on the board.
2. Tell students that they will be learning about the experiences of Peace Corps Volunteers who are living in African countries that struggle to maintain an adequate supply of clean water. To become familiar with terms and concepts they will encounter while reading selections written by Volunteers, they will view photographs taken by Volunteers serving in Togo, Cameroon, Ghana, and Guinea. Show the locations of these countries on a world map or a map of Africa.
3. Show the following photographs and captions from the Water in Africa website: CM0212, CM0224, CM0225, CM0230, CM0233, CM0235, CM0714, TG1017, TG0130, TG0115, GH0304, GH0308, GH0622, GN0105, GN0318. As you view the photographs, explain unfamiliar terms (e.g., borehole, forage, river blindness) and encourage students to think about how the photographs help to answer the essential question "How does water affect health?" Explain that they will be researching the causes of, and prevention strategies for, waterborne diseases.
4. Tell the students that for homework they should write a response to the essential question "How does water affect health?" Their answers should reflect what they have learned from the class discussion and from viewing the Peace Corps photographs.
1. Have students share their homework with a partner. Tell them that they will be reading selections written by Peace Corps Volunteers, some of whom they saw in the photographs, to learn more about the connection between water and disease.
2. Distribute copies of the Health and Nutrition Retrieval Chart (PDF) and divide students into four "expert groups." Each group will be reading vignettes on health and nutrition from Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea, or Togo. They will then work with others in their expert group to fill out the retrieval chart.
3. Once each group has completed its chart, put students into groups of four that include one student representing each of the expert groups. Tell students to take turns sharing the information they entered on their retrieval charts with the other members of the group until everyone has a complete chart. For example, student A talks about Togo while the others in the group take notes; student B then does the same thing for Cameroon, etc.
4. For homework, students should write a response to the second essential question, "What can people do to prevent waterborne illness?" Their answers should reflect what they have learned from completing the retrieval chart.
1. Ask students to share their homework responses with a partner. Then ask the class for methods that might be used to convey water sanitation strategies to a large number of people. List responses on the board.
2. Once the list is complete, review each suggestion and have students assess whether or not the method would work in rural West Africa where there is usually no electricity and where illiteracy, especially among women, is high. Note that television and print materials are unlikely to reach the broadest audience. On the other hand, battery-operated radios are common in African villages. Skits or visual aids, such as posters, storyboards, ane billboards, can also be effective methods of reaching a rural, and possibly illiterate, audience.
3. Instruct students to work in these groups to create a coordinated campaign to fight against one of the waterborne illnesses they have read about. They will need to do some additional research about the illness beyond what they have learned through the Peace Corps selections in order to plan an effective campaign. Pass out the Internet Research (PDF) sheet to students and let them visit the sites on it to begin to locate information about waterborne illnesses. They should use the waterborne Illness Research Chart (PDF) for help in organizing their research.
4. Toward the end of the period, ask students to stop and give you their attention while you describe the public-awareness campaign that will be their assessment project. Their campaign should include a public-service announcement for the radio, a skit to be performed in front of a village, and a series of posters, storyboards, or billboards. The campaigns will be presented to their classmates and then be sent to an international organization that works to fight waterborne illness. In order to present their campaigns to both of these audiences, students will need to have scripts for their public-service announcements and skits. Visual aids that are too large to be sent in the mail should be photographed.
1. Show sample public-service announcements, skits, and visual aids to students. Discuss what made them interesting and educational.
2. Have students sit in their groups. Pass out copies of the Evaluation Rubric (PDF) for the waterborne illness campaign. Go over the assignment, making sure that all understand they are to work in a group. Review both the requirements and the rubric.
3. Instruct students to continue with their research and begin their projects. Monitor the work on their health campaigns and act as a mentor, providing advice as they work in their groups.
Day 5 until completion
1. Continue working with the groups to complete their public-service campaigns.
2. Have students present the components of their campaign to an audience of peers, parents, teachers, and community members.
Students will be assessed on how well they meet the standards that are addressed in this unit. The rubric (PDF) for the final project explicitly addresses each of these standards.
Send student work to the World Health Organization, the Carter Center, UNICEF, or another organization working to fight against waterborne illnesses.
About the Author
Amy Cohen is a teacher of world geography in the Abington School District, outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.