Transforming home and school life

Through water and sanitation programmes

By James Aldworth
Christine John outside her house in Juba.
UNICEF South Sudan/2018/Aldworth
05 September 2018

JUBA, South Sudan – It is a bright sunny day as our vehicle winds its way through the outskirts of Juba, travelling down narrow unpaved tracks and across ditches of water that are swollen by the recent rains. Eventually we reach the house of Christine John. A crowd of people quickly gather as the two vehicles park up. One is clearly emblazoned with the UNICEF insignia, while the other belongs to UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) partner in the area, Malteser International.

Christine, a demure and slight woman, is keen to tell us about the latrine she has constructed, if only because she is still in need of a final element that will complete her project, the concrete slab that seals the latrine and makes it safe. She hopes this will come soon. She attended a community-led triggering session (CLTS) back in May, which provides guidance of good hygiene practices, and immediately after began work on building a latrine.

During the session, she learnt the importance of using a latrine and of proper handwashing. She says when her children go to the bathroom now, she always makes sure their hands are washed.

Asked what impact the CLTS has had on her life, she says it has reduced sickness and diarrhea. “I have seen some improvement in my and my family’s health and I realize now that at the very least, if her children or herself defecate in the bush, she must at least bury it.”

She has also learnt how to treat and store water for better consumption. She takes the water from the local borehole and places it in the pots she has for storing, which have covers. She uses ‘water guard’ which she buys from the local clinic. One tablet is needed for every 20 litres and a pack of twenty tablets costs 20 South Sudanese pounds (approximately $0.10). After some minutes, she can transfer the water to drinking jugs for consumption. Her supply of water is now safe.

The triggering sessions are being held across Juba as part of an urban water initiative to bring about behaviour change within communities on issues related to WASH. Improvements in the way people manage their water and waste will have the knock effect of improving health and preventing disease. In a country where only 50 per cent of the population have access to safe water, and over 60 per cent of the population practice open defecation, there is still much to be done to provide more safe water and to encourage people to change their behaviour on the use of latrines.

Achiro (left) and Rose (right)
UNICEF South Sudan/2018/Aldworth
Achiro (left) and Rose (right) outside the newly built latrines at Gumbo Basic Primary, which were funded by the German Development Bank (KFW).

At the Gumbo Basic Primary School across the River Nile from Central Juba, Rose and Achiro are studying for their final year of primary school even though they are already 18 and 17 years old, respectively. Both speak good English and enjoy science as their favourite subjects. They both want to be doctors.

As a variation of the CLTS, UNICEF and its partners are supporting school-led total sanitation (SLTS) sessions, which encompass much of what is taught in the community-led version, but also cover menstrual hygiene. At Gumbo primary, they are known as hygiene clubs, and amongst other topics, the use of re-usable sanitary pads is covered. Rose and Achiro are regular attendees.

Initially, both Rose and Achiro were reluctant to talk about the menstrual hygiene element of the clubs, instead referencing the teaching on latrine maintenance, environmental hygiene and only mentioning the need to keep themselves clean. When pressed by Malteser International staff member, Clement, they explained that they were uncomfortable about talking about menstrual hygiene in front of men. Myself and Clement quickly explained that they should feel comfortable speaking of such things and that in the UK, for example, discussion on menstrual cycles is very normal. They began to relax.

Both Rose and Achiro said they were comfortable discussing the topic with their parents and with other girls, but not with the boys. They said the boys would make fun of them if they knew they needed to use the bathroom to change their sanitary pads. One suggestion was that boys should also attend the hygiene clubs so they can understand the complications around menstrual hygiene.

Achiro Gifty stands outside a classroom
UNICEF South Sudan/2018/Aldworth
Achiro Gifty stands outside a classroom at Gumbo Basic Primary. For her the distribution of reusable sanitary pads has meant she no longer has to stay at home for days during her period.

When asked about the difference the clubs and the sanitary pads had made on their lives, the impact was clear. Rose explained that before she had access to pads, she would have to stay at home during her period for up to one week at a time. Inevitably, she would miss classes. Asked how this made her feel, she said it made her feel unhappy because once you missed classes, they couldn’t be repeated.

Achiro was in agreement, “we have a lot of changes, we still come to school now even when it is there (their periods). We attend classes and then go home, no problem.”

(UNICEF’s urban wash programme in South Sudan is generously supported by funding from the Government of Belgium, the German Development Bank-KFW and the Swedish International Development Agency-SIDA.)