Nadiya Hussain MBE, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, KT Tunstall, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Sir Tony Robinson, Cerys Matthews and Kimberly Hart-Simpson are among ten stars of the stage and screen, and the sporting and social media worlds who are lending their support to WaterAid’s Thirst for Knowledge appeal. Public donations made by 15 February 2022 will be matched by the UK government, up to £2 million, making double the impact in communities in Nepal.
A third of schools globally have no basic water supply or decent toilets, having a detrimental impact on millions of children’s health and education, especially among girls who often skip school when on their period if there are no toilet facilities or drop out altogether when they reach puberty.
As women and girls collect water in four out of five homes without water on-site, they have less time to work or study. When girls miss out on their education, they ultimately miss out on life chances and the knowledge to create change.
Celebrities and influencers have taken a trip down memory lane to share their school experiences in support of WaterAid’s work to ensure girls are not denied their right to education.
‘Busy bee’ author and TV chef Nadiya Hussain MBE fondly remembers a teacher who gave her a valuable confidence boost:
“A ‘busy bee’ would be a good word to describe me as a teenager. I was senior head girl, school councillor, prefect and a reading mentor and I was doing my exams through all of that.
“I had a food tech teacher called Mrs Marshall who was so kind and nurturing. She was always really enthusiastic, and she made me feel confident whilst learning something new. I met her years after school and after winning Bake Off, and she was exactly as I remembered her: bubbly, enthusiastic and full of life. A walking-talking example of how to live life!”
Paralympic swimmer, Ellie Simmonds OBE, found herself drawn to different careers, saying:
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet as I absolutely loved animals, but as a teenager, I decided I wanted to be a forensic scientist because we had one visit the school to do an assembly and I was hooked from that very moment. Throughout my secondary school years, our form teacher Mr Doe, was just the best; he treated us not just as students, but as individuals and made our classes a happy environment every single day.”
Remembering why school was so important for her, author Dame Jacqueline Wilson DBE said:
“I wanted to be a writer from when I was six years old. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to get one book published, let alone a hundred! I was a daydreamer at school, my nickname was Jacky Daydream. The teachers thought I should be better at maths (I was hopeless) but they all said I was good at English – it was dear Mr Townsend who encouraged me to write and was always very sweet and patient.”
Describing her teenage-self as ‘wayward’, musician and broadcaster, Cerys Matthews said:
“My school reports described me as ‘excellent when she applies herself’ and said to ‘stop daydreaming’. One teacher was especially inspirational: Mrs Ellis, my biology teacher. I adored her. Strict but loving, and utterly engaged in the enlightenment of her pupils. She taught me about ‘old mans beard’ and other botanical gems.”
Musician KT Tunstall was a daydreamer who had the chance to try many different things at school:
“My school reports stated ‘has potential…but easily distracted’ and they were totally accurate! I was definitely a daydreamer, occasionally falling on the naughty side, but I was keen to try out anything from chess to fencing to metal work; I loved all the things I was able to do.
“I had some great teachers. The Head of Music at the High School of Dundee was Mr Cochrane; he was always really supportive of me and my talent, he made the music room feel like a playground. I spent a lot of time just playing on pianos, electric keyboards and on guitars.”
Sir Tony Robinson, who always wanted to be an actor, said teachers thought he was ‘a nuisance’, apart from his inspirational poetry teacher:
“They said that if I concentrated more and stopped messing about in class, I’d get better grades; they were right. I was cocky and a bit of a show-off, but I read a lot, and was dedicated to trying to rid the world of apartheid and nuclear weapons. My favourite teacher was a lady who came to teach us poetry. I loved the sound of the words on my lips and up my nose, and the way she taught us to recite for a minute at a time without drawing breath. I loved the pictures the words made, and the stories they told.”
Coronation Street actor, Kimberly Hart-Simpson who plays Nicky Wheatley, says that although she spent much of secondary school feeling nervous, she always knew what she wanted to do:
“I wanted to be an actor the second I found out what one really was – performing was my fate. I was always anxious and not very academic, and all the while I was a daydreamer, but my favourite teacher, naturally, was my drama tutor, Mr Harrison. He encouraged us to be unique and to parade our inner desires. He was fantastic and, no doubt, the love he had for his job made a direct impact on me, and the love I have for mine too!”
Also providing school memories are influencers such as author and body-positive Instagram star, Megan Jayne Crabbe, who says she was a ‘goody two-shoes’:
“I’ve always been a perfectionist; I was never late or in trouble. But despite the nerdy streak, the subject I loved most was drama. The teachers said I was a pleasure to teach and that I had a bright future ahead, although one of them recommended I try to relax and have more fun! Both my parents were teachers, so I always had a helpful voice at home, and adults around who understood the importance of education, as well as feeling safe and comfortable at school.”
One thing they didn’t have to worry about was whether there was somewhere to get clean water and go to the toilet at school, yet millions around the world are denied access to these basic human rights. Puja, 12, goes to school in Lahan, Nepal, where a lack of these vital facilities means many girls miss school every month.
Puja, who would like to be a nurse, said:
“There is water, but it contains iron and it stinks. I’ve fallen ill by drinking the water at school, it generally causes stomach ache. When girls menstruate at school, it affects our studies as we return home. There should be proper management of pads, toilets and drinking water, so girls wouldn’t have to return home and miss their classes.
“We go to school to study and gain knowledge, which will help us become somebody we wish. Life is not possible without water, since we need water to do everything like drink, cook, clean, wash, sanitation, personal hygiene.”
Through its Thirst for Knowledge appeal, WaterAid will help bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to schools and homes around the world, transforming the lives of tens of thousands of people like Puja. Matched funding from the UK Government will bring these vital facilities to 28,000 people and 30 schools in the Bardiya district of Nepal, along with income-boosting activities such as making liquid soap and sanitary pads. With these essentials, students have the chance to finish their education and reach for their hopes and dreams.
Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid, said:
“Our school days have a profound impact on our lives. School should be a time for learning, for dreaming about the future, and gaining the skills to pursue your goals, but schools should also be safe and healthy places. Ensuring all schools have clean water and decent toilets provides girls with an equal chance to get an education and take charge of their lives.
“This winter, we are inviting people to support our Thirst for Knowledge appeal to bring these basic human rights to communities around the world, helping transform lives for good. With match funding from the UK Government, donations will make double the difference.”
Visit https:https://www.wateraid.org/uk/blog/school-memories to find out more and support WaterAid’s Thirst for Knowledge appeal.