Education Or Water?

Pupils of Bondeni Primary School, Kakamega County who mainly come from Masingo slums, did not have much of a choice with this dilemma. “Our pupils especially the girls had to make trips to nearby rivers during break time to support the water supply in the school. This led to some of them skiving school and losing time on lessons” , said Mr. Peter Ingati, the School Head Teacher during the commissioning of new water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in the school supported by the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi through the Civil Society Urban Development Platform.

In September 2016, the school faced closure due to poor standards of sanitation through a recommendation by the County’s Public Health Officers. It is then that school management sought the intervention of various stakeholders to enable continued access to education for the pupils. Kakamega Local Urban Forum quickly saw the need and through one of its member organization, the Western Water and Sanitation Forum (WEWASAFO) an expert in WASH interventions established a partnership with the Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) for a WASH intervention in support of the schools population of 850 pupils (429 girls) and 26 Teachers.

This intervention has since delivered a 30, 000 Ferro-cement water tank, 2 Hand Washing stations and 4 Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines through the financial support of CSUDP and an additional 2 VIP latrines financed by the school community fulfilling one of the recommendations from the County’s Public Health Officers and saving the school from intended closure. The school Board of Management contributed sand and ballast, the parents provided labor and food to the ‘fundis’ while the children helped transport construction materials during break time. A similar intervention was delivered for Mumia’s Township Primary School with a population of 1, 254 pupils and 27 teachers.

Impact on Girls

While the impact of poor access to water and proper sanitation is bad for children’s education in general, it is much more pronounced for the girl child. If there is no proper toilet for privacy, teenage girls will miss school while menstruating. When they have to walk through bushes to collect water they face the risk of sexual abuse. “The trips to the river to fetch water put girls at the risk of abuse from idling young men and street boys. Vendors at a neighboring local market expressed concern that school going children were slowly being influenced by the street boys and girls and were also constantly stealing from them'', lamented the Head Teacher.

Impact on Health

Simply providing access to clean water and sanitation in the school was not enough. Without the knowledge of basic hygiene practices the benefits are reduced. This necessitated the need to provide hand washing facilities as well as hygiene education to ensure that the pupils got ill less often and thus spent more time in class.The evidently jubilant children gladly shared their appreciation for the facilities, the skills, knowledge and new attitude acquired not only on the maintenance of the facilities but also the day to day life skills for improved hygiene and prevention of sanitation and water borne diseases. A very confident Ms. Rose Wangatia, Vice President of the newly established Child to Child Club in Mumias Township Primary School had this to say, “I know the importance of washing my hands, after visiting the toilet, before cooking, after changing the child napkin, before and after eating. I feel clean, safe and take a very short time when visiting the latrines. I am glad that I can now concentrate on my studies without worrying about going to the river for water… Thanks for the inspiration, I am optimistic I will get over 400 marks in my KCPE exams this year!”

The facilities were commissioned by Ms. Nasrin Pourghazian, the Programme Manager from the Embassy of Sweden, accompanied by Mr. Gordon Mumbo, the Chair Board of Directors, CSUDP and Mr. George Wasonga, the CEO of CSUDP. While launching the projects, Ms. Nasrin Pourghazian said, “All children regardless of their background have the right to education and am happy that the Embassy of Sweden is making its contribution to assure the fulfillment”. She also emphasized the importance for the government, community, and the children to continuously be engaged in finding innovative and affordable ways to ensure the sustainability of the interventions.

Expressing the gratitude of the school administrators for the interventions. Mr. Ingati remarked “On behalf of the school Board of Management, teachers, parents, pupils and the entire community, I sincerely thank you our friends, WEWASAFO, CSUDP and the Embassy of Sweden; the children from Masingo slums have not been denied their right to education. Our children now have a potentially bright future!” These sentiments were echoed by his Mumias Township Primary counterpart Madam Miriam Wesa, “…. this intervention has greatly improved the access to water right within the school compound. The time that was lost in search of clean water and queuing to access the sanitation facilities will now be utilized in academic improvements…” 

The complimentary role and accountability of development partners such as CSUDP in the provision of education was commended by Mr. Jacob Mumia, the Director of Planning Kakamega County. On her part Madam Ebby Khavai, the Minister of education of Kakamega County said, “There has been a big change and impact in the schools that have been supported with water and sanitation, hygiene among the pupils has been maintained… We are grateful that our girls are being supported and empowered and are more confident and comfortable in school. They are safe from all forms of child abuse. They now can fully concentrate on their education without worrying about having to cross dangerous roads and other unnecessary distractions. We expect improvement in their academic performances! This intervention and partnership compliments the efforts of government and a true catalyst to lifelong learning, promoting child protection through child friendly spaces, there is need for more child friendly spaces in our schools for enhanced child protection.”  

By: Robai Naliaka Edited By: Veronica Machira
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