|© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Clover|
|Patricie, 16, is no longer missing lessons thanks to her school’s better latrines.|
By Jenny Clover
UGESERA DISTRICT, Rwanda, 21 October 2011 – The promotion of health and hygiene in schools is an essential part of the Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) package, introduced by UNICEF to Rwanda in 2004. As a result of this initiative, children all over Rwanda are benefitting from improved sanitation facilities in their schools, which UNICEF hopes will lead to a major reduction in student drop-out rates.
Improved sanitation facilities
One school reaping the benefits of this new approach to sanitation is the Murama Child-Friendly School in Bugesera District, where improved toilet and water facilities have made a great difference to the enrolment and retention of female students. At Murama, students have access to hygienic latrines, running water, soap and sanitary towels for all female students. Pupils are also taught about the importance of health and hygiene, with the hope that they will pass these skills on to their families and communities.
Patricie, 16, is in her final year of primary school at Murama. Like many female pupils, she has missed several years of education after dropping out and having to repeat years. She explained that part of the reason for this was the lack of hygienic facilities at her previous school.
“The toilets here are clean and we have our own toilets away from the boys, and we also have running water,” she said. “But they used to be really bad. I didn’t feel clean and didn’t want to use the bad toilets that we shared with boys.”
|© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Clover|
|Murama Primary School head teacher, Jean Pierre Sinibagiwe, says attendance has improved as a result of better health and hygiene facilities in Rwanda.|
Currently, her school has 1,434 students enrolled, more than half of whom are girls. There are four blocks of latrines, with separate buildings for both boys and girls, and there is even a toilet designed for easy wheelchair access. Shower rooms are also separated by gender.
A positive impact
Jean Pierre Sinibagiwe, head teacher at Murama, expressed his enthusiasm towards the hygienic improvements made to his school, highlighting the positive effects they’re having on students – particularly girls. “This has made a big difference to the numbers of children who now stay in school and don’t drop out,” he explained. “We had a big problem with girls taking time off school here. They were ashamed and felt dirty and didn’t want the boys to see them. But now our girls do not miss school when they are on their periods because we have good, clean facilities for them, and we offer them sanitary towels.”
The Government of Rwanda is making steady progress in improving access to safe water and sanitation services. However, 24 per cent of the population is still unable to access safe drinking water and 46 per cent has no access to improved sanitation facilities. Rural areas like Bugesera District are particularly affected.
Children are more vulnerable than any other age group to the ill effects of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. Diarrhoea accounts for 19 per cent of deaths in children under five and experts estimate that child deaths would fall by 18 per cent with more frequent hand washing with soap.