Now, I Love Everything About My School
UNICEF develops improved WASH facilities for 500 children in Zavkhan province
Up until last year Ankhiluun (16), student at School No.4, in Uliastai soum of Zavkhan aimag in Western Mongolia, had only one thing that she disliked about her school: the absence of indoor toilets. For the ten years that Ankhiluun has been studying in this school, she, along with her 500 schoolmates and 75 school staff and teachers, had no other option but to use the school’s outdoor open-pit latrine, located some 200 meters away from the school premises.
“Our school loo was a major drawback,” recalls Ankhiluun with an embarrassed smile. “It was located far from the school, it was smelly, and it was also dangerous, especially in winter when it got terribly slippery out there.” The worst times, according to Ankhiluun were when the girls had their menstrual periods in winter and had to spend time to change the sanitary pads in bitter cold, when temperatures plummeted to two digits below zero. Zavkhan is one of the coldest of 21 provinces of Mongolia, where winter temperatures easily drop beyond - 40 degrees Celsius.
The school doctor, Buyanjargal Togtokh, reveals that lack of proper sanitation facilities in the school has caused many health problems to children. “In winter, many teenage girls had problems with cystitis, because of staying too long in the cold," says the doctor. “Moreover, boys and girls would just run out without wearing coats to be on time for the next class.” She recalls that many children tried not to drink water or tea during the long school days to avoid using the latrine.
For 17-year old Demberelnyam, one of the ten pupils with disabilities of School No.4, a trip to the pit latrine took at least 10 minutes, twice the time given for breaks between lessons. “I could not afford going to the latrine whenever I needed because I knew I’d be late for the next class,” says Demberelnyam, who made sure to drink as little as possible during the school day.
Using the decades-old outdoor pit latrine and having no access to handwashing sinks and soap often led to diseases outbreaks among school children, especially in spring and autumn. Dr. Buyanjargal explains that before UNICEF-led intervention, children regularly suffered from intestinal infections.
Under the “Community-Based Climate Resilient Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Interventions in Mongolia” project which is being implemented as part of UNICEF’s flagship WASH programme, the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities were set up in Ankhiluun’s school in 2019, heralding a momentous change in children’s lives. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) partnered with UNICEF in building indoor school toilets for boys and for girls. Moreover, the two organizations helped constructing a 60 square meter school extension consisting of seven rooms, including four shower rooms, two dressing rooms, a men's bathroom, and a women's bathrooms with two toilets and two sinks in each bathroom. Ankhiluun and her friends could not describe the joy they felt when the shiny, brand new comfortable WASH complex opened in their school in 2021.
“I am so grateful to finally have a convenient indoor bathroom and a nice new building with changing rooms and hot showers. We no longer need to dash out through snow and ice for a couple of hundred metres, testing our speed and guts against cold winds. Now, I love everything about my school!” says Ankhiluun, happily.
“Thanks to UNICEF, I no longer have to worry about being late for the next lesson. Also, given my legs impairment, using an indoor standard toilet is much more comfortable than using a pit latrine,” says Demberelnyam. Toilets for wheelchair users have already been installed and will be operative as of mid-2022.
"Improved WASH facilities are absolutely necessary in supporting children’s health and dignity. Comfortable toilets are crucial in granting girls privacy, ensuring an adequate menstrual hygiene health and providing children with disabilities safe access to bathrooms,” explains Batnasan Nyamsuren, UNICEF WASH Specialist, who has been leading UNICEF’s efforts in construction and rehabilitation of WASH facilities in schools, kindergartens and family health centres in rural Mongolia. Since 2019, UNICEF and its development partners supported the implementation of over 200 WASH facilities in Mongolia.
Whereas the indoor toilets are reserved for the pupils and school staff, the newly built WASH facility has a separate door to the public shower and bathroom, making it accessible to all community members. With this initiative, UNICEF granted access to improved WASH facilities to 670 households and 1,500 people of Uliastai soum. UNICEF Mongolia advocates for replication of WASH facilities nationwide and is planning to build 20 more facilities in 2022.