New sanitation facilities help Palestinian girls focus on their studies
By Monica Awad
Jalood, occupied Palestinian territory, 21 March 2012 – For 8-year old girl Manal, going to school is no longer a source of stress, as she no longer has to wonder whether she will be able to access toilets at her school between classes.
‘I used to hold myself until I reached home, because the school’s bathrooms were always crowded. It was also embarrassing because we girls had to share them with boys, who always managed to access the facilities more than we did’, said Manal. “In the end, I avoided the place entirely.”
Located on a hill, approximately 70 kilometres north of Jerusalem, Jalood is home to 550 Palestinians, half of them children. The basic co-educational Jalood school serves 137 students age 6-15.
With funding from the Australian Government’s overseas aid programme, AusAID, and as part of its water, sanitation and hygiene initiative targeting schools, UNICEF has just finished building a new block of sanitation facilities with four toilets in the school. Painted with colourful graffiti that read “Hygiene is the core of civilization”, the units are mainly intended for girls, students with disabilities and female teachers. With the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE), UNICEF also built four wash basins, provided two water tanks and carried out hygiene awareness raising activities. UNICEF also carried out hygiene classes to teach children the importance of washing hands with soap and on healthy eating.
It may not look like much, but in practice it changed the girls’ daily lives.
“In the past, we only had three sanitation units, which was insufficient to meet the needs of students and teachers”, says Abdel Nasser Darawsheh, the school Principal. “This created a major challenge for female students, affecting their learning achievements”, he adds.
Building separate sanitation facilities where girls can feel at ease is an integral part of strategies for girls’ education, as female students tend to miss classes or even drop out of school when they lack access to adequate, decent sanitation facilities. Girls, who are shy, need privacy and are less likely to miss classes if they can access girl-only sanitation facilities at school. The building of the new facilities at Jalood school with AusAid’s funding should help increase the recent improvements in learning achievements at the school, where students’ scores in the national Arabic language test significantly improved over the last year.
Jalood is a quiet village, except for a handful of houses located in Area “C” if the West Bank, which is under full Israeli security and administrative control. These houses are surrounded by two Israeli settlements and, according to the villagers, come under constant threat of settlers’ attacks. This creates stress for children, especially since most settler attacks occur at night.
Manal, whose family live in one of the threatened houses, says she sometimes has difficulties falling asleep because of the stress. “Some settlers came and attacked us at night once, I was terribly scared”, she recalls. “I wake up any time I hear a noise outside because I worry it might happen again”, the girl adds.
The school principal recalls that “a fourteen year old child was attacked by settlers and injured in the eye during the olive picking season in October last year; his family had to take him all the way to Nablus to reach an hospital, some 25 km away”.