An excrementitious situation

How a lack of latrines is depriving children in South Sudan of an education

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
Open latrine doors
10 February 2021

TORIT, South Sudan- The topic lends itself to a figurative language creating dimpled cheeks, but only glazed faces are seen when discussing latrines with students. Their education depends on them.

“Before, the girls would go home to use the loo. Often, they didn’t return to school and depending on what time they left they could be missing out on half a day of education or even more,” Adonga David explains. He is the Head Teacher at Iluhum Primary School in Torit, in the south-eastern part of South Sudan.

The iron doors on the latrine block were either unhinged or rattling in the wind as they couldn’t be closed properly. “We didn’t want to use them as ‘everyone’ would be watching when we were doing our business,” Nite Toffi (19) sighs with embarrassment in her voice. She is in primary 8 and her final year in Primary School.

The only option apart from going home was to use the latrines meant for the lower classes, but they already had many users and the waiting line was long.

two girls standing outside a latrine
Eliza Amamam (16) to the right and Kezia daniel (14) are standing outside the newly rehabilitated latrine at AIC nursery and Primary School

At AIC Nursery and Primary School, the sound of teachers lecturing, and children reciting is muted and only bleating from the next-door goats is heard. Since the COVID-19 closure of schools in South Sudan in March 2020, only candidate classes, primary 8 and senior 4, have resumed and Eliza Amama (16) and her peers are studying hard for their final exams next week. “It is easier to concentrate without all the noise,” she remarks. When all the students are present, they are 966 learners in total creating a cacophony of sound but also a constant move of students between the classrooms and the latrines.

“The breaks are not long enough for everyone to do their business; you have to go during class. But sometimes when you reach there, all the stalls are busy. You have to return to class, and then go again later to check,” Eliza explains.

“For us teachers, this is very disruptive,” Head Teacher Ongee Charles comments. “But what can you do? They have to go when they have to go and there are not enough latrines for all of them to go during the breaks.”

A girl standing in front of a latrine blocl
jasmine Blessing (16) is standing outside one of the newly built latrine blocks at Torit West primary School

In South Sudan, only 10 per cent has access to improved sanitation. Over 60 percent of the population practice open defecation. Proper latrines and handwashing facilities contribute to healthier students and therefore improved public health. With the support from the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, UNICEF has rehabilitated one of the latrine blocks at AIC making the total number of stalls 18. That is 53 students per stall. At Iluhum Primary School, the broken latrine is now repaired and cleaned up and the primary 8 girls now have their own toilets again.  One of the stalls is made into a changing room where the girls can have some privacy to clean up and change pads when they are having their periods. Both schools have proper handwashing facilities installed for all the students to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.

“We now have a better latrine capacity and the biggest change is that the girls don’t disappear during the day anymore. They remain in class which is important now that we are just about to start the final exams. They don’t have a minute to spare after the long COVID-19 closure,” Adonga David observes.

AIC and Iluhum are two of the 13 schools in Torit county that now have a minimum level of WASH services. Additional 15 schools in the county are lacking handwashing stations, latrines and boreholes, affecting learning for all children but girls in particular. Under the KfW supported resilience project, additional schools are assessed and identified as in need of WASH interventions.