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In tribal Bajaur, school sanitation and hygiene brings girls back to school

© UNICEF/Pak2010/Unknown
A UNICEF supported hygiene session is in process

Bajaur Agency, PAKISTAN, March 2010 – Two years ago, Amna left school for what she thought then would be the very last time. A Grade 2 student, she was only 11 years of age, and far from completing a basic primary education. Instead, Amna started working at home. All her days were spent cleaning the house, taking care of her younger siblings, and helping tend the family’s crops.

“In these conservative tribal areas, we have to work with parents to convince them that their children should have a full course of primary education,” says Ishaq Israr of Just Peace International, a UNICEF local partner working in Bajaur Agency.

Amna lives in Jan Kili, a farming village of 1,400 inhabitants located in Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. FATA is amongst Pakistan’s least developed areas, and education levels are very low. A 2007 study showed that only 22 per cent of people over 15, and 7 per cent of women, were literate. Only 28 per cent of children were enrolled in primary school, including 17 per cent of girls. Since the survey was completed, FATA has been wracked by increasing uncertainty and violence in which education, especially for girls has been targeted by militants. Bringing children to school, and keeping them there, is thus a vital and difficult task.

“In these conservative tribal areas, we have to work with parents to convince them that their children should have a full course of primary education,” says Ishaq Israr of Just Peace International, a UNICEF local partner working in Bajaur Agency. “But an essential prerequisite is to ensure that schools have basic facilities. This includes trained teachers, school equipment and a functional structure, including a lavatory.”

With funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), UNICEF aims to offer children and women and their families in conflict affected areas greater access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Under this partnership, early recovery Water, Sanistation and Hygiene Promotion (WASH) interventions in conflict affected districts of Malakand Division and Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies of FATA will benefit nearly 1.5 million individuals, including 82,500 school children.

Amna’s school was one of those that lacked a latrine, and pupils were forced to use the open fields instead. “As I was then a grown girl, I felt uncomfortable going outside into the open when I needed to use a latrine,” she says.

Her parents were also uncomfortable. “We live in a Pushtoon culture where the privacy of women and girls is of primary importance,” says her father, Jan Bahadar. “I could not tolerate my daughter having to visit the open fields to attend to the call of nature.”

Then, in 2010, Just Peace International came to Jan Kili. While, as a village elder explained, the girls’ school had been eagerly attended since its establishment, recently numbers had dwindled. A major reason was the lack of sanitation infrastructure: many children like Amna had dropped out. The Jan Kili Government Girls’ Primary School thus became a key focus in a project to support education in remote Bajaur Agency by ensuring that 50 primary schools had functioning water and sanitation facilities, and students, teachers and parents were informed about good hygiene practices and their importance. Amna and her parents were delighted.

“When my friend Aisha told me that water and latrines are now available at the school I was delighted,” says Amna. “I was fed up of working at home, and I wanted to continue my schooling.” Here, she could learn, play and grow with other children her age instead of spending all her time working at home.

“When my friend Aisha told me that water and latrines are now available at the school I was delighted,” says Amna. “I was fed up of working at home, and I wanted to continue my schooling.” Here, she could learn, play and grow with other children her age instead of spending all her time working at home.

Mr Bahadar, Amna’s father, was also delighted. “I am a poor man and want to educate my children,” he says. “I am very pleased that Amna can go back to school.” Nevertheless some

Focus schools have hygiene sessions in which children and school staff learn about good hygiene and how to maintain a healthy school environment. Children are encouraged to take their newfound knowledge home, thus contributing towards greater awareness in the community. In Ganji Kali Village, this aspect of the project has gained the support of the prayer leader, Maulvi Abdullah.

The reason, Mr Abdullah says, is that he had seem a strange change in the village children. He noticed that they were cleaning their teeth regularly, and keeping a bar of soap at the mosque to wash their hands. More, they would even ask adults to use the soap. When he asked the children how they had adopted such high standards of cleanliness, which were in full accordance with religious teachings, they told him about the hygiene education at school. “This is the Islamic message of hygiene,” says Mr Abdullah.

“Good school sanitation and hygiene help every aspect of a child’s growth and development,” says UNICEF WES Officer, Mohammad Shakaib Jan. “They prevent diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia which cause 40 per of all child deaths. They help prevent children, especially girls, from dropping out of school, especially in these conservative areas where insecurity has already taken a toll on education. By developing school sanitation infrastructure and hygiene education, we invest in the future of children like Amna.”

 

 

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