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WASHing away girls’ challenges

By Wossen Mulatu

Neeima Muktar, 12, at Tutis Primary School in Oromia State of Ethiopia

DAROLABU WOREDA: OROMIA REGION, 26 November 2013- As the twelve year old Neema Muktar walks to school, carrying five litres of water, she is dreaming of becoming an engineer when she grows up.  For now, she is attending 7th grade in Tutis primary school. 

Tutis primary school, a hub for 822 students; 346 female and 536 male, is located in Darolabu woreda of Oromia Region at a distance of 442 kilometers from the capital, Addis Ababa.

It takes Neema close to an hour to reach to her school from home. “Every day during the dry season, except for weekends, I bring a jerry can with five litres of water to school from the nearby pond . Because I have to collect water, I sometimes arrive late to my class and miss the first session,” says Neema. She stresses that water shortage is the most serious problem in the school, especially in the dry season from October to May, when it is not raining.

Each student starting from 1st grade is expected to bring three to five litres of water every day; mainly for food preparation, gardening and the latrine,” explains Teferi Mekonnen, Head of the Daralabu Woreda Education Bureau. “When it’s raining, water is not needed, because
not only can the school manage to supply water to itself, but also to the neighbouring communities which is really fulfilling.” Because of the generous support of IKEA through UNICEF, the school has managed to construct a rain water harvesting scheme that is helping to curb the water shortage problem in the school.

According to Teferi, the land formation in the area has make it difficult to get water from the ground easily. They have tried to drill for water unsuccessfully for several times.  Therefore, they rely on other innovative schemes such as rainwater harvesting, as the best option to satisfy the water needs of the school community. During the dry season, they use water from  ponds and springs, though they are far away. Sometimes the school even relies on the woreda (district), to bring them water in big water tanks. “It is better when it rains for us and we are so happy that the scheme is there to do the collection,” says Neema.

Creating Girls’ Comfort Zone in school

Members of girls club at Tutis Primary School in Oromia State of Ethiopia

In Tutis, one of the most active co- curricular activities is the girl’s club that has 61 members; 56 female and 5 male. The club brings children together to discuss their challenges and seek solutions. In addition, it helps them develop leadership skills and empowers them to express themselves openly.

Neema is also a member of the girls club. She feels safe and comfortable while surrounded by her fellow club members. With her peers, she even raises her voice higher to express herself. Alone, she often speaks watching the ground.

The hygiene kit provided by the girl’s club is one of the incentives for Neema to come to school. “I like it very much,” she says with a big smile. The kit composed of basic kits for girls such as sanitary pads, toilet paper, soaps, underwear, toothpaste and other items provided by UNICEF with the support of IKEA.

Tamene Workneh, Unicef focal person for Oromia Regional Bureau of Education, left, and Dame Meskele, School Principal, show the water-catchment system at Tutis Primary School

According to the principal of the school, Dame Meskele, 47 hygiene kits have been given, through the girls club, to girls who cannot afford to buy their own.

Besides the water harvesting scheme and hygiene kits, IKEA’s contribution to Tutis Primary school includes: the renovation of three Cluster Resource Centre (CRC) classrooms; construction of separate latrines for boys and girls; supply of one duplicating machine; one typewriter; student’s desks; teacher’s tables and chairs; blackboards and establishment of the Early Childhood Care and Education Centre.

In order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 [universal primary school education], for children of Ethiopia, it is important to avail quality School WASH facilities such as separate latrine for boys and girls and handwashing facilities.

WASH in Schools, not only promotes hygiene and increases access to education, but also supports national and local interventions to establish equitable, sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation services in schools. It also decrease the gender gap by providing separate facilities making girls like Neema comfortable at all times. By staying in school and advancing her studies, Neema will make her dream of becoming an engeneer a reality.



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