The end of a nightmare

proper toilets for 320 female students

Narges Ghafary
02 February 2020

Herat, Afghanistan, 2 February 2020: Until a few months ago going to the toilets or taking a bath was a nightmare for 320 female students living in a dormitory in Herat province, Afghanistan.

The students who are studying either nursing or midwifery programs had to use a single toilet located in the yard, outside the main building to relieve themselves. And for taking bath, hmmm... going to their relatives’ houses to take a shower was the best solution! The reason for this nightmare was just maintenance. The plumbing system was worn-out and malfunctioning and clogged.

Soraya, 19, one of the midwifery students says, “The washroom was always smelly, and its smell had filled the whole building. Unfortunately for me, the water had escaped through the walls of my room and caused an unpleasant smell inside, so bad, that I couldn’t concentrate on my studies anymore.”

Water seepage can ruin walls and as well as create an environment where mold can develop. The issue of clogged plumbing system had comprised the whole building including kitchen, dining and laundry rooms. “We could not sit in the dining room to eat food. There was a bad smell everywhere. The handwashing sinks in the dining room were not useable and we had to use the water tap in the yard to wash our hands.” Soraya says adding that due to the large number of students, there was always a long queue to wash hands in the yard, as such some students skipped the essential practice of handwashing.  We were being trained as health professionals, but the entire environment was so unhealthy, and this was a real nightmare.

In partnership with Herat Provincial Rural Rehabilitation and Development, UNICEF, as part of its gender responsive approach to programming, supported the rehabilitation of all the eighteen toilets and sixteen bathrooms in the dormitory and renewed the building’s water supply and plumbing system.Sahar, 27, the deputy head of the dormitory says, “It is essential to maintain a high standard of hygiene and sanitation in the dormitory because the place is a popular and affordable choice of housing for many people seeking educational opportunities in Herat.  This was supposed to be a learning haven, especially for girls and young women who go through a lot of challenges to attain even basic education, much more higher learning. In a communal living environment, any lapses in hygiene can easily result in the rapid spread of infectious diseases.” She adds that, if such issues are not addressed immediately, the students may not be interested to use a dormitory anymore and as a result, they may drop out of university.

The toilet rehabilitated by UNICEF inside of the female dormitory.

Ahmad Zia Noori a UNICEF WASH Officer says, “Poor maintenance of the plumbing system had created major headache and hassle. Over time, hidden leaks in the sink drain caused structural damage. Water that seeps into sheetrock or plaster contributed to mold growth and made the whole building smelly.” Adding that if some part of the water or sewer main is clogged, the issue likely affects the entire building. “While the toilet is probably the most common place where clogs originate, they can start, build and disrupt function in and from any location in the system.”

According to Mr. Noori, it took 6 months to rehabilitate the entire water system of the dormitory and the total cost was of the rehabilitation was 585,0536 AFN equivalent to 76,600.00 US$.

Having the entire plumbing system improved and rehabilitated, the Department of Public Health will make sure of its maintenance.

“I am very happy with the repaired toilets and bathrooms,” utters Soraya, with a visible excitement on her face. “Before, in the morning we had a long line of students, each waiting to use the only toilet and wash their hands from a single tap in the yard. Now we can take a shower whenever we want, and we no longer require going to our relatives houses with a pack of clothes in our hands.”