Sanitation is the Key to Unlock Education

by ACT

  • Posted on October 11, 2019

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Girls from Nyezelera Primary School outside a completed toilet building

Have you read about our ULEMU project in Malawi and how we are tackling the challenge of the high dropout rate of school girls from education in the country? One way we have tackled this problem within the Ulemu project is through the provision of more toilets especially for girls at Nyezerela Primary School, near Migow in Malawi and forms part of our enriching the community programme.

Toilets are an everyday part of life. How often have you struggled at the lack of a toilet nearby? Probably as you read this, you are within walking distance to a toilet. However, the reality is that this is an everyday struggle for girls in Malawi, who face the challenge of lack of enough toilets at school, and even the very few that are available are inadequate and often without access to water. Imagine then the challenge for a school girl who is having her period and the shame it brings when there is no toilet or access to water while she is at school.

Inequality in Africa is often gendered. Simply through ensuring that girls stay in secondary school, infant mortality rates drop by half. In Malawi many girls face marriage before the age of 18 and then adolescent pregnancy with a heightened risk of HIV transmission. Yet, if girls stay in school, their prospects become much brighter as they are better educated, they avoid being married off and thus reduce pregnancy rates. One large barrier to keeping girls in school is period poverty. This is an issue that affects women and girls who don’t have free access to safe and hygienic sanitary products or facilities. With our ULEMU project, we want to educate girls on menstrual hygiene and attempt to overcome the taboos that they face as a result of a completely natural part of their bodily functions. Our toilet project specifically aims to tackle the practical cost of period poverty at Nyezerela Primary School.

Every school day, nearly four thousand boys and girls from 12 different villages in the Nyezerela community, aged from 7 to 16 years, attend Nyezelera Primary School.  In Malawi, children attend primary school for 8 years and spend a further 4 years in secondary school. In 2014 when ACT started this project there were over 2,200 pupils at the school, more than half of whom were girls. There were only 14 toilets at the school of which 8 were for girls. The national standard requires that there should be at least 1 toilet for every 60 pupils. On that basis the school should have had at least 33 toilets with a minimum of 18 for girls. With such few toilets and with no access to water, many girls choose not to go to school during their period, missing up to 12 weeks in a school year of 38 weeks. It is no wonder then that girls have been having lower pass rates on average and a higher percentage were dropping out altogether from school compared to boys. This ultimately jeopardises Malawi’s 2030 mission of ‘Education for All’ with girls being proportionally more disadvantaged than boys.

Our mission was to build 24 toilet units to provide privacy for girls and boys alike. Our hope was that through building these toilets, girls’ retention and educational attainment would increase, ultimately enhancing effective learning. Indeed, girls were at the heart of this project.

By 2018, we had been able to complete the construction of 16 toilet units with water which have been in frequent use. This will undoubtedly impact the education of the girls’ and provide the necessary sanitary hygiene needed to stay in school.

There is still work to be done. The number of children attending Nyezelera Primary School has risen to almost 4000 pupils. More toilets are needed and we are anxious to raise funds to build more toilet blocks. The cost of building 16 toilets was £9,600 and includes the structural works, chemicals needed for disinfectants and water buckets and cups. We hope that we can eventually put a functioning water system in place; however we don’t yet have the funding.

So far, your donations have had an incredible impact and we wouldn’t have been able to carry out projects such as this without them. Any further donations would be extremely helpful for us and will definitely go a long way!

Your donations really do help to make a difference, so please make a donation to support our Ulemu project. Click here to donate

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