Goodbye Closure Notice, Hello Education: How Water and Latrines Keep Schools Open

In Kenya, many schools are constantly on the lookout for the dreaded closure notice from the Ministry of Public Health due to the schools’ challenges with water, sanitation, or hygiene – and sometimes all 3. Kipchorwa Primary School in Western Kenya was no exception. Its 400+ students were relying on dirty stream water for drinking, they had no way to wash their hands, and their latrines were grossly overcrowded and overused. Every day, the teachers worried if this term would be their last.

Students fetch dirty stream water for drinking before project implementation

This fear became a reality at Kipchorwa Primary School when they finally received a closure notice from the Public Health Officer last term. They then received a second notice and warning that if the requirements were not met, Kipchorwa Primary School would not be allowed to open for a new term.

Luckily, Kipchorwa Head Teacher Mr. Haroun Chebour was linked to our team by his brother, who happens to be the principal at Banja Secondary School. Mr. Chebour heard about the rain tank, latrines, and handwashing stations we installed at Banja, thus setting the Kipchorwa Primary project in motion.

We happened to be at Kipchorwa Primary on the day the Public Health Officer, Mr. Kipruto, returned to the school compound with all of the confidence and sadness that he was going to close it up. Little did he know that a surprise awaited him! He was met by a large rain tank and VIP latrines under construction. He was impressed with the efforts of the school and our team.

As we shook hands with him he said, “I was so sure that I was going to close up this school today, but I am happy with the kind of work that you have done in this school. You have really saved the young ones a lot; now they don’t have to miss school due to closure, nor waste time going to fetch water. May you extend your support to many other schools.”

Girls celebrate their new VIP latrines

Once the rain tank and latrines reached completion, the school community was so excited to no longer worry about the closure notice. Teachers reflected on what this project will mean for their school’s future.

“In the past, we taught the pupils how to wash their hands but it was not possible without the handwashing facilities and water in the school. I am so happy that now we have handwashing stations and knowledge on how to do it. We also have water in the compound for handwashing. Surely this is the best thing that has happened to this school,” reflected teacher Grace Musimbi.

Pupil using a handwashing station

Head Teacher Mr. Haroun Chebour was thrilled with the project’s completion as well.

“This looks like a dream come true to me. I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about the closure notice received from the Public Health Officer and the implications of closing the school to the candidates who are to sit for their final examinations in the next 2 months. I really thank your team for your prompt action; now I can no longer hide in my office whenever the Public Health Officer comes around because now he can no longer close my school!” Mr. Chebour said proudly while smiling.

Students standing on the rain tank’s manhole cover protecting the tap

To learn more about Kipchorwa Primary School and their WaSH project, click here

Filling the Gap: How The Water Project is working to prevent COVID-19 in Western Kenya

Staff practice safe social distancing during a meeting with the Ministry of Health (March 2020)

The Water Project is working in coordination with the Kenyan government to respond to and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Western Kenya. Because of our unique relationship with the communities where we work, we are amplifying our sanitation and hygiene lessons by promoting health messaging on local radio stations and working with communities to debunk rumors about COVID-19.

One challenge faced by the Kenyan government is a shortage of health workers. In order to reach more people, the government is reaching out to established teams that have experience in community health outreach – including The Water Project.

The government recognizes that The Water Project (TWP) is a leader in promoting improved hygiene and sanitation in communities and schools across the region. Our teams are already on the front lines of preventing the spread of diseases each day.

Read more about The Water Project’s sanitation and hygiene work in Western Kenya.

The government has taken a series of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country since its first confirmed case on March 12. One of its first actions was to shut down points of entry – stopping border crossings and flights into the country. The second step has been to focus on training health workers so that they can inform communities about the virus, what needs to be done to prevent its spread, and what should be done if someone falls ill.

As a result of that work, the Kenyan Ministry of Health identified our team as having the necessary experience and connections to support its COVID-19 training program. Last week, 30 members of our team worked with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to incorporate preventing the spread of COVID-19 into our messaging. We now have a mandate from the government to go out and conduct community training on the virus so that communities and families are empowered to respond to this extraordinary pandemic.

Students listen during a hygiene and sanitation training in 2019 (prior to social distancing)

“We build long-term relationships with communities and schools in Western Kenya. These provide platforms to provide education to communities during this crisis,” explained our Executive Director Catherine Chepkemoi.

With the schools closed, our teams are focused on community outreach. During every community visit we are speaking with community members to learn what they have heard about COVID-19; discuss the routes of transmission and prevention; describe possible symptoms; emphasize handwashing with regular bar soap, and advising people to avoid large groups and to stay home if they or a family member are ill.

“During these critical times of coronavirus, we will ensure that we sanitize the taps of our water points during monitoring and evaluation,” said Catherine.

“We will use every opportunity in the community to sensitize them on coronavirus and emphasize the importance of maintaining social distancing when drawing water from the spring.”

Handwashing demonstration during community hygiene and sanitation training in 2019 (prior to social distancing)

These conversations provide the opportunity to debunk rumors that are spreading about the disease. Messages shared on social media sometimes contain false or misleading information. For example, one rumor we learned about is a belief that only hand sanitizer or liquid soap will work to kill the virus. Our teams are helping people sort through these myths and continue washing their hands with soap – even if it is a bar!

We are also using LUBAO FM, a local radio station broadcasting in both the local Luhya and national Kiswahili languages, to reach out to many listeners in Western Kenya. The platform provided by this media station has been used to teach the community about COVID-19, its symptoms, how it is spread, what steps should be taken to prevent its spread, and how to communicate with health facilities if someone suspects that they or a family member are sick with it.

“We have a team of committed, well-trained, and reliable human resources that is also well-versed with the demographic characteristics of most communities in Western Kenya. As a result, the government feels confident of the work we can do in combating COVID-19 among communities in Western Kenya,” said Catherine.

How a commitment to reliable water turned around Mukunyuku RC Primary School

In the past, Mukunyuku RC Primary School was an undesirable posting for teachers in Western Kenya. In 2017, Kennedy Wesonga was posted to the school as the new head teacher. He was not happy with the assignment. Mr. Wesonga wondered why his promotion from deputy head teacher to head teacher was to a school like Mukunyuku.

Students arrived at the school each morning carrying both a water container and textbooks. The water was meant to be used for cooking and cleaning. If students needed more water, they went to an unreliable hand-dug well shared by the school and surrounding households. If there was water, the students pulled it out through a hatch using a bucket and rope system.

“Our well does not give us sufficient water to drink. We use the water pupils bring,” said Mr. Wesonga when we first met him in 2018.

In the year 2018, he saw a rain tank being constructed at Namalasire Primary School. He decided to pursue the same for his school. We constructed a 50,000-liter rain tank at the school, as well as a pair of triple-door ventilation improved pit (VIP) latrines for the students.

“The construction of the rain harvesting tank has really given me mileage in the community. Every head teacher now wants the same project to be implemented in their schools!” exclaimed Mr. Wesonga after the construction was complete.

Students celebrate at the rain tank after it was completed

Mr. Wesonga promised that the school would never face a water challenge again. True to his word, the school has never lacked water in the tank since September 2018. That is due in part to his strict management of the water in the tank. Whenever the water level in the tank gets to 15,000 liters, he restricts its use for drinking only and supplements the school’s water needs with the shallow well to collect water for washing and cleaning. He would make phone calls to the watchman and make visits to the school during weekends and when the school was not in session to check on the tank. Mr. Wesonga also managed to create an understanding and enabling environment with the community so they respected him enough not to interfere with the water in the tank.

“I am very happy because before the construction of the tank, we used to go to the well or nearest river to draw water from there, but now ever since the tank was constructed we no longer go out to look for water,” shared Scaton, a student we met during a recent visit to the school.

A visit to the school saw a lot of appreciation from the teachers and the students. It is true that the project has impacted them positively as evidenced by the additional number of students that have joined the school and pupils’ good performance in last year’s primary school examinations. It is now easier to learn in this school because there is no more struggling for water since it is right inside the school’s compound, students told us.

“I am so happy that the school enrolment increased and that the performance in the 2019 examination improved very much. I attribute the change to the project. If it had not come to Mukunyuku RC Primary then we would remain the way we were,” said Mr. Wesonga.

Mr. Wesonga was posted to another school at the beginning of 2020. As a part of his transition, he made it a priority for the next head teacher to properly care for the school’s water source. Mrs. Edna Khakasa Weswa was surprised that such projects existed and she has promised to keep alive the vision for 365 days of safe and clean water for the school.

Mrs. Weswa (middle) and Mr. Wesonga (far right) with our staff.

Our hope is that she achieves it. Mrs. Weswa is already taking steps to improve the tank. She intends to fence the project so that it is not interfered with by outsiders. We worked with her to install a new manhole cover so that she can more easily manage the tank and prevent people from using it outside of school hours. She will also introduce additional leaky tins to promote handwashing and construct additional latrines since the population at the school has increased.

“It is a fact that the water tank will remain forever,” said a determined Mrs. Weswa.

The impact of the rain tank on the school is apparent to the community, too. We met a student named Auma who said that she changed schools to attend Mukunyuku RC Primary because of the fact that it has a reliable water source and it performed well in the 2019 exams. She and the other students are a part of the change happening at the school thanks to the ability to access water at any time. Parents want to send their children here and teachers like Mrs. Weswa are happy to be posted to the school.

Women of WaSH: Who We Are

On this year’s International Women’s Day, we celebrate and salute all of the girls, women, and allies who are working to reach gender equity through access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH). Globally, we know that the water crisis disproportionately affects women and girls. Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to be the family member responsible for fetching water. The time they spend fetching water takes them out of school, away from their other pursuits, and often prevents them from living up to their full potential.

When half of the population has to focus on fetching water above all else, we all lose out on the contributions these girls and women might make if they had the time or energy.

Women and girls are also put at risk when they lack access to safe and sufficient sanitation facilities. They are made vulnerable when walking long distances to isolated toilets or open defecation sites, and they face additional risks from these sites’ poor hygiene. Women and girls experiencing menstruation, pregnancy, or raising children require particular hygiene needs that a lack of water only exacerbates.

Women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and women’s rights are human rights. Access to safe and reliable water, sanitation, and hygiene is no exception.

So who are the women of WasH?

They are our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors.

They are our bosses, leaders, colleagues, community organizers, and elected officials.

They are scientists, engineers, students, teachers, readers, and writers.

They are makers, doers, believers, dreamers, and champions.

They are me, you, or someone you know.

They are half of the population, and they will be seen and heard.

They are ready to make gender equity – and every right associated with it – a reality.

Are you?

To join us in the challenge to make equal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene a reality, click here.