Bringing a culture of cleanliness to Kataya Primary School
Good hygiene practices are essential in preventing the spread of cholera
Break time has just concluded for learners at Kataya Primary School in rural Lilongwe. As they return to class, their immaculate school campus is impossible to miss, with students chattering and giggling. The absence of litter is noticeable, and well-maintained pathways connect classrooms while flourishing plants adorn the administration block outside.
"This is all because of the Living Schools project," says Deputy Headteacher Mr. Oscar Kambadya, pointing to different parts of the school. "Our school now sets an example for hygiene. The project promotes planting flowers to beautify the campus and trees and vegetables to improve nutrition among learners."
Twelve-year-old Grace Ephraim is an enthusiastic member of the school's Living Schools Club and has her own fruit tree. "I understand that I won't benefit from this tree, but my younger siblings will once it blooms in the next five years," she says softly.
Dressed in her blue dress and white collared school uniform, she walks toward a borehole a few meters from the classroom to collect drinking water.
As she waits for her fellow students to collect water, she remarks, "Having clean water readily available here, especially during cholera, is so helpful. Before the borehole was fixed, we were sometimes forced to drink dirty water."
The school also has large rubbish bins and handwashing buckets with soap on every classroom block. The culture of cleanliness is improving every day. "Every child knows to throw their trash in there. They have helped keep the school clean, especially during the mango season, a time when diseases like cholera are common," says the young learner, who aspires to become a nurse.
The Living Schools Project is supported by UNICEF Malawi with funding from UNICEF Germany. As part of the project, UNICEF rehabilitated the borehole and provided hygiene supplies, among other nutrition activities. The water and sanitation aspect has been particularly critical in containing cholera in the area, where over 1600 lives, including over 120 children, have been lost to the disease in Malawi.
"Some nearby villages reported cholera cases, and some learners live there too. But because of the rehabilitated borehole, we have managed to maintain good sanitation and hygiene at the school," explains the Schools Health and Nutrition Teacher, Mr. Arnold Chakunkha. "Since last year's cholera outbreak, we have also intensified hygiene efforts. The children all know they must wash their hands before eating and after visiting the toilet. We have emphasized the importance of avoiding carrying cold food and always keeping their food covered. They should also seek medical care as soon as they experience symptoms of diarrhea."
As classes are in session, proactive children are also seen refilling water buckets and pushing the rubbish bin to empty them. "It's like a toy to them; they love maintaining the bins," says Mr. Chakunka. Currently, the only sanitation challenge they face is the need for more latrines. "We have 1,380 learners, but only 10 latrines. The latrines are also of a very poor standard as they were constructed on a small budget with support from the village chiefs in the area. It's a massive problem, especially for the girl child," he adds.
Still, on the brighter side, they are gratified by the school's progress. "Absenteeism has reduced drastically. We also have more and more community members wanting to enroll their children at our school," he remarks with a wide smile.