Supporting Learning and Quality Education One Toilet and Hand washing Facility at a Time
by Radika Sivakumaran
February 2014: Australian Aid is changing the lives of students in the north of Sri Lanka by removing barriers to learning and academic excellence by supporting the installation of facilities that one doesn’t always associate with learning - new toilets and hand-washing facilities.
“You might not think not having water or good toilets in school is a problem, but can you imagine learning in a school where you don’t want to or cannot drink water because there is no water and the toilets are so old and stinky that you don’t even want to go near them? Do you know how distracting this is?”
Vithusaha, who attends Grade 13 at Mankulam School, does. “Our old toilets had no running water; there was one that we could use, but then everyone wanted to use it too – the problem with that, however, was that it was close to the boy’s urinals and always made us uncomfortable.”
But now thanks to a generous grant from the Australian Government to UNICEF, the 414 students who attend Mankulam School now have new facilities and can concentrate on what they have come here to do – learn.
Australian Aid and UNICEF have not only repaired existing facilities, but they have worked with the school to install 16 hand washing points, one new toilet block, four hand washing units, a toilet and had washing facility for physically disabled children. The school’s hygiene education programme has also been revitalized through a monitoring system and the re-activation of the school’s health club – where children can talk about environmental issues with a mentor and promote solutions to ensure that their school remaining a healthy environment for learning.
“I am so happy with the new facilities” smiles Vithusaha. “They are separated from the boys, there is water and they are clean and don’t smell! I do wish, however, we had a better way to dispose of used pads, but this is not something we really express to anyone.”
With UNICEF support, the school also has running water and a strong hygiene education programme. Children wash their hands before eating their mid-day meal. Each class has a standalone tap and ten jugs to drink water, and recycled water from the kitchen is used to water the school’s vegetable garden.
The school has also put in place a roster system to ensure that the toilets remain clean. Nirosha, who also attends Grade 13, explains:
“First of all, we are all responsible for not making a mess, then, we all take turns to clean the facilities. There are two teachers, one male and one female who distribute cleaning supplies, monitor cleanliness and who you can talk to about hygiene issues.”
Rubiny is the female “hygiene focal point” teacher. She is happy with the new facilities, too, and explains how the school has a bin and disposal bags for used pads. She also says that not all girls use the pads; some stay home during their period and others go home because they have bad cramps. “Irregular attendance is a problem, “she admits.
“Menstrual hygiene is not something we talk about, “confides Rubiny. “I would love to be able to talk with both children and their parents about the first period, about cramps, about hygiene; it is just difficult in our culture.”