Working With Environmental Issues

Students will learn to appreciate the importance of clean water for the maintenance of good health, and how the lack of clean water leads to the spread of disease and parasites in West Africa.


  • Students will gain a deeper appreciation for the clean water and sanitation standards common in America.
  • Students will realize that there is no easy answer to complex problems of disease and parasites in West Africa.
  • Students will use their problem-solving skills to address a real-world problem.
  • Students will learn that Peace Corps Volunteers must be creative and resourceful, taking into account the cultural perspectives of their local community.


Part 1

  1. Bring in a few store-bought bottles of water and some paper cups. Distribute a small drink of water to each student. Ask why many Americans pay for bottled water rather than drink tap water. Ask for a show of hands: How many students drink only bottled water? How many drink tap water that has been put through a filter? How many drink plain tap water? How many would drink rainwater? Water from a nearby stream or river? Ocean water? Why or why not? Help students note that we have many options when it comes to drinking water?or not drinking particular samples.
  2. What else do we use tap water for? List as many things as possible. [Examples: laundry, washing hands, watering lawns, washing cars, mixing in paints, scrubbing the floor.]
  3. Have students guess how much water the average American uses per person per day [176 gallons]. Have students calculate how much water their family would use in a week at this rate; how much in a year. You might give them the figures from the City of Manhattan Beach, Department of Public Works:
    • For a 10-minute shower: 40 gallons
    • For a load of wash in a washing machine: 45 gallons
    • Brushing your teeth: 3 gallons per day per person
    • Flushing the toilet: 28 gallons per day per person
  1. Ask students: What choices would you make if you were limited to 10 gallons per day? How would you allocate your water use? How would your life be different? What if you were limited to the amount of water that you could carry for a mile? Now have them look at the water-use chart and identify countries where water usage is less than 10 gallons a day per person. Remind students that the water may not be clean. Help students understand that Americans view certain uses of water as necessary that would be extreme luxuries in other parts of the world. Ask students to try to identify such usages. [Examples: washing cars, extended showers, watering a lawn, decorative fountains.]
  2. Give students a copy of Fred Koehler's third letter. If you haven't used previous CyberVolunteer letters from Koehler, introduce him by explaining who he is and what he is doing in Togo. Explain where Togo is. Ask students to read the story to see what impact the shortage of clean drinking water has on the people of his village, Blitta-Gare.
  3. Ask students to define the word "endemic." [Common in a particular place or among a particular group of people.] What are the reasons Koehler gives for endemic illnesses like cholera in Togo?
  4. Homework: Assign students to groups and ask each to use the internet to research one of the endemic diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Part 2

  1. Ask students if any of them thought about the previous activity after going home. Did they alter their behavior in terms of using water? Did any discuss with their families what they had learned?
  2. Ask for reports on the diseases of Africa. Which diseases could be prevented by better hygiene and sanitation?
  3. What suggestion does Koehler have for improving conditions in his village? [Aid organizations to improve the quality of water and education to persuade villagers to practice sanitary behavior.] Will these suggestions solve the problem? What else could be done?
  4. Ask students to summarize what they have learned from discussing Koehler's letter. Ask them what kinds of careers would help in solving the world's water crisis.

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • In West Africa, hygiene is an important factor in combating the spread of disease and parasites; most endemic diarrheal disease, for example, is transmitted from person to person on hands and food because of poor hygiene practices.
  • In America, most people have access to clean, safe drinking water—and they take it for granted. In many countries of the world, however, water drunk by people carries germs and parasites that cause a variety of diseases.

Essential Questions

  • Do all cultures look at resources in the same way? If not, why not?
  • How can natural resources affect health and living standards?


National Science Education Standards
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Content Standard C: Life Science 


  1. Collaborate with a math or technology teacher on an interdisciplinary project to reinforce student learning. Direct students to acquire research data on some of the statistics of water and sanitation. Have student groups prepare posters illustrating water-use issues with graphics such as bar charts and line graphs.
  2. Check out some statistics and tables on water and sanitation. Visit the World Health Organization's research projects on water and sanitation.

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