Please note: original photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Due to a lack of water, the latrines are always dirty and during my menstruation, I sneak into people's private compounds to use their latrines instead," said student Melvin. "The school has no water to drink and during athletics, some of the pupils faint yet we do not have water to offer first aid, so we are afraid to participate in the sports," she explained.
Melvin describes the impact of a severe water crisis on a typical school day for the 433 students and 13 teachers and staff at Eshimuli Primary School. There is no water on campus, so the students must walk to a spring in the village for all of their water needs. Sometimes the school tries to purchase water for special occasions, but even that has proven unhelpful in resolving their water stress.
"The lack of water on the school compound has affected my pupils, my teachers, and myself," said Head Teacher Mr. Jairus Wamaya.
"The other day, we purchased drinking water because we had a meal during one of the meetings here in school, but the water the vendor brought was contaminated and had little insects moving inside it. Since that day, I do not drink water in school unless I carry some from my home - which is quite a distance. I am left wondering how long I have consumed the dirty water - no wonder my teachers are battling with typhoid!" Mr. Wamaya explained.
Pupils arrive at school between 6:30 am and 7:30 am, some arrive with water from home. This is also when students are sent to the spring to fetch water. The school avoids sending the students for water during the day due to the fact that most of them do not come back until the next day. So, water is fetched during the morning hours only. Because it is a community spring, however, it is always crowded in the morning due to the influx of community members who also need to fetch water. The constant worry and consequences of pupils coming into conflict with community members over the protected spring are weighing down both the school management and pupils.
The school has no means of treating the water collected by students, which is often contaminated by their dirty containers. Because water is pooled for use, even one contaminated container puts everyone at risk. Most of the pupils suffer from typhoid and amoeba, and as Melvin mentioned, when they faint during games there is no water to assist them. The distance to the spring has caused most of the students to use small containers to fetch water in order to carry it back, so they are never able to meet even their own water needs. Headaches and constipation are widespread due to dehydration.
The latrines at Eshimuli are combined in a single block with 3 doors on one side for girls, and 3 doors on the opposing side for boys. With the high student population, these latrines are far too overcrowded. They also offer little to no privacy between the girls' and boys' sides and between the nearby teachers' latrines. We heard over and over again how the girl child here does not feel safe using them, and since there is no water near the latrines, hygiene is compromised. Unventilated and cleaned just once a week without soap (because it is not available), the smell is very bad in and around the latrines.
The girls we spoke with confessed that during their menstrual cycles, they usually skip school because they have no way of maintaining their personal hygiene while there. Others, like Melvin, try to attend but spend a lot of time missing class anyway while they try to find latrines elsewhere, risking their safety in the process. We and the school agree that no girl should have to choose between her menstrual hygiene and her education, yet this is currently the only choice available at Eshimuli Primary.
While chatting with the pupils during one of their breaks, they shared how excited they were that this project was coming to their school. They are tired of walking over 1 kilometer in search of water, they said, but they know their current situation is simple: either carry the water or don't drink at all.
What We Can Do:
A 75,000-liter rainwater catchment tank will help alleviate the water crisis at this school. The school will help collect the needed construction materials such as sand, bricks, rocks, and water for mixing cement. We will complement their materials by providing an expert team of artisans, tools, hardware, and the guttering system. Once finished, this tank will begin catching rainfall that will be used by the school’s students and staff for drinking, handwashing, cooking, cleaning, and much more.
We and the school strongly believe that all of these components will work together to improve standards at this school, which will help lead to better student academic performance and will help to unlock the potential for these students to live better, healthier lives.
There is currently just 1 handwashing station for both students and teachers to use after visiting the latrines or before eating lunch, but there is no soap and little water to allot to this.
The student health club will oversee the 2 new handwashing stations we will provide, and make sure they are kept clean and in working condition. The club leaders will fill the handwashing stations with water daily and make sure they are always supplied with a cleaning agent such as soap or ash.
2 triple-door latrine blocks will be constructed with local materials that the school will help gather. 3 doors will serve the girls while the other 3 will serve the boys. All of these new latrines will have cement floors that are designed to be easy to use and to clean. And with a rain tank right on school property, there should be enough water to keep them clean.
Training on Health, Hygiene, COVID-19, and More
All primary and secondary schools are currently closed in Kenya due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are scheduled to reopen in January 2021. Once classes resume, we will schedule a training session with students, teachers, and parents. This intensive training will cover a wide range of topics including COVID-19 symptoms, transmission routes, and prevention; personal and environmental hygiene; and the operation and maintenance of the rain tank, latrines, and handwashing stations. There will be a special emphasis on handwashing.
Our team of facilitators will use a variety of methods to train, including participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation, and asset-based community development. We will initiate a student health club, which will prepare students to lead other pupils into healthy habits at school and at home. We will also lead lectures, group discussions, and provide illustrative handouts to teach health topics and ways to promote good hygiene practices within the school including handwashing and water treatment. We will then conduct a series of follow-up trainings before transitioning to our regularly scheduled support visits throughout the year.