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At a glance: Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, school-led sanitation programmes improve health and save lives

© UNICEF 2012/Sierra Leone
Students in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, disseminate hygiene messages near their school's latrines.

By Charly Cox

MASAKA, Sierra Leone, 10 July 2012 – Memunatu Conteh, 14, lives in Masaka with her mother and four siblings. She has a busy daily routine, collecting water and sweeping her family’s compound in the morning, going to TDC Primary School Masaka to attend classes, then fetching water for the classrooms. After school, she plays football, then returns home to help her mother with the cooking.

Memunatu is also an active member of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) club at her school, taking the energy she shows on the football field and applying it to improving hygiene and sanitation both at her school and in the village where she lives.

TDC Masaka is one of six schools in Tonkolili District taking part in the School WASH Project, facilitated by Hands Empowering the Less Privileged Sierra Leone (HELP SL). This project is helping schools provide child-friendly WASH facilities and conduct School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) and School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) activities in the district.

Preventing illness

Before the SLTS programme began, Memunatu had been exposed to many of the dangers that are unavoidable with poor sanitation and hygiene. She missed school due to severe diarrhoea. She also stepped on a thorn while going into the bush relieve herself, which resulted in a painful infection. One of her brothers had also gone into the bush to relieve himself and was bitten by a snake; he suffered nausea and high fevers and was unable to walk for some time.

© UNICEF 2012/Sierra Leone
Students in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, demonstrate hand-washing, one of several hygiene activities being promoted in the district.

Now, as part of SLTS, Memunatu has learned how to prevent this from happening. As one of 12 members of the school’s WASH club – alongside two teachers and the School Management Committee Chairman – she took part in intensive trainings and committed to ensuring that hygiene and sanitation practices are upheld both at the school and in the community.

TDC Masaka’s WASH club members are especially dedicated. They began to improve the village’s sanitation even before they had been approached by HELP SL, convincing the villagers to building latrines and adopt proper hygiene practices.

Although Masaka Village has been declared free of open defecation, Memunatu says that the work of the WASH Club is ongoing. “Sometimes we go round the village after school to tell people to construct latrines, and [advise] those who have not completed their latrines to do so,” she said. “We also advise them to sweep around their toilets and compounds. We tell them to always cover the holes of their latrines. We go to house after house to check on them and give the messages.”

Even their close friends and relatives required some encouragement. “Even my uncle had to be reminded before he finished his toilet work,” Memunatu said.

© UNICEF 2012/Sierra Leone
Students in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, perform a skit promoting proper sanitation and hygiene.

Spreading their knowledge

Now the children are sharing their knowledge further afield. Mohamed A. Kamara, head teacher at TDC Masaka, spoke of the club’s efforts to encourage surrounding communities to become open defecation-free. “They go around not only in this community, but in other communities... on sensitisation tours, telling people how to prevent disease. They sometimes sing songs, and we have been given a megaphone so that we can use it on such expeditions. They usually present small plays or skits depicting what the people should or should not do to avoid disease.”

“What a difference the SLTS has made in our lives as pupils, to the school and to the community as a whole,” Memunatu reflected. “Before the programme started, we did not know anything about brushing the compound or how to keep it clean. But now that we have been taught about the importance of being healthy, we do it every day. We did not sweep or cover the toilet holes before. We just left them open. But now, we have learned all of that and we practice it always.”

Memunatu looks forward to continuing the WASH club’s work and sharing the knowledge that they have gained. “I want to continue because my brother used to get sick. But after digging the toilet, he has not fallen sick again. We are no longer suffering from any sicknesses in our house. That is why I like this project.”



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