Improving Access to Education for Rwanda’s children
by Jenny Clover
Murama School, Bugesera District, Rwanda, July 2011: All over Rwanda pupils are benefitting from improved health and hygiene facilities in their schools to ensure that fewer of them drop out.
The promotion of health and hygiene in schools is a major part pillar of the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) package, introduced by UNICEF to Rwanda in 2004. This package promotes a learner cantered methodology, trained teachers and bigger, brighter classrooms, playgrounds and improved water and environmental sanitation. At Murama, students have blocks of hygienic latrines, with separate buildings for both boys and girls, running water for drinking and washing, a separate washing room with a towel and soap, and free sanitary towels for all female students.
Improved health and hygiene facilities are part of the CFS approach to making schools a place where children are happy to be, so they are less likely to drop out and more likely to learn. 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.
One school where the benefits of this new approach to sanitation are clear is 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. The school has 1,434 students, more than half of whom are girls. The school features water tanks on each building to collect rainwater, and also has a large underground tank that allows it to store excess water. There are four blocks of latrines, with separate buildings for both boys and girls, that are regularly cleaned by a staff member dedicated to this task.There is even a toilet designed for easy wheelchair access. There is a separate shower room for girls with water, soap and a towel, so they can wash themselves and their clothes, and they also have access to sanitary towels. In case they are too embarrassed to ask their male head teacher for them, a female Dean of Students has been appointed who has the key to the room where they are stored.
Patricie is 16 and 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 says part of the reason for this was because she didn’t want to attend school during her period.
“The toilets here are really good. They are clean and we have our own toilets away from the boys, and we also have running water,” Patricie explained.“But they used to be really bad, they were unclean and we had to share with the boys. Sometimes they would come when you were queuing and we had to move away to let the boys use it because they said they had priority. Also there was no privacy and sometimes they would make fun of us. We were not happy.When I was on my period I would leave school and stay at home, sometimes for up to a week. I didn’t feel clean and didn’t want to use the bad toilets that we shared with boys. Because I was missing one week of school every month, I found it hard to keep up with my studies.”
“It’s much better now we have separate toilets and we don’t have to see the boys every time we go to the toilet. If a boy is found in the girls’ toilet he is punished, so we never see them here. The toilets are really clean. I don’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed about my periods. And the school provides sanitary towels for me so I don’t have to miss school. I am doing really well at school, last term I was third in my class with 77%.”
Patricie does not have running water at home and has to walk 3km before school every day to fetch water for her family. She says: “It’s much easier at school because we have water whenever we need it. We can drink when we want and we wash our hands after going to the toilet and after playing.”
Jean Pierre Sinibagiwe, who has been head teacher of Murama for two years, says the improvements since the school became a CFS in 2010 are vast.
“Now we have enough latrines for all pupils and they are separate, and we have 10 water tanks which collect rainwater so that our children can drink and wash. This has made a big difference to the numbers of children – particularly girls – who now stay in school and don’t drop out. 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. If they have a problem they can go to the wash room to clean themselves and their clothes.
“These changes have made a big difference to us, we are a happy, inclusive school and our girls are performing very well. We feel very proud of the changes and of our pupils.”
The Government of Rwanda is making steady progress in improving access to safe water and sanitation services. However, 24% of the population is still unable to access safe drinking water and 42% have 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% of deaths in children under five and experts estimate that child deaths would fall by 18% with more frequent hand washing with soap.