"It's all about the water"

New WASH facilities attracting refugees and host communities back to school in West Nile Sub Region

By Hope M. E. Muzungu
water, sanitation, hygiene, clean water, water supply, WASH, WASH in schools, Uganda, Iceland Government, West Nile, schools, handwashing, clean hands, refugees, host communities, safe hands, menstrual hygiene management, MHM, menstruation, school enrolment, girls education, school completion, school retention
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Mugisha
25 March 2022

The normal school day at Nyumazi Primary School in Nyumazi Refugee Settlement, Dzaipi Sub County in Adjumani District would last about four hours only. Most students would report to school after 9:00am and only a few would return after the lunch break. 

However, since schools reopened in 2022, the new school day starts at 8:00am and runs beyond 3:30pm, with all students staying till the end of the school day. 

Nyumazi’s Headteacher Phillip Tabou reveals the reason for enhanced school attendance.

“It’s all about the water!”

water, sanitation, hygiene, clean water, water supply, WASH, WASH in schools, Uganda, Iceland Government, West Nile, schools, handwashing, clean hands, refugees, host communities, safe hands, menstrual hygiene management, MHM, menstruation, school enrolment, girls education, school completion, school retention
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Mugisha
water, sanitation, hygiene, clean water, water supply, WASH, WASH in schools, Uganda, Iceland Government, West Nile, schools, handwashing, clean hands, refugees, host communities, safe hands, menstrual hygiene management, MHM, menstruation, school enrolment, girls education, school completion, school retention
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Mugisha

Nyumazi Primary School has a newly installed motorised solar water system that supplies water to taps in the school courtyard, the staff quarters and two drainable five-stance latrine blocks, one for boys and another for girls. The girl’s block is replete with a washroom fitted with an incinerator for safe disposal of sanitary pads. 

These WASH facilities were all installed at Nyumazi as one of 27 primary schools benefiting from a three-year government ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in institutions’ project in West Nile sub region, supported by UNICEF with funding from the Government of the Republic of Iceland. The intervention focuses on increasing sustained access to, and use of safe drinking water, and improved sanitation and environmental hygiene practices in schools and health facilities, with a focus on learners and pregnant women in refugee and host communities. 

The results are evident. All 18 schools at which the WASH facilities have been installed so far have reported an increase not only in class attendance but also overall enrolment, especially for girls. At Unaa Primary School, Pachara Sub County in Adjumani District, over half of the 1,435 learners are girls. 

The Adjumani District Education Officer, Robert Dima, further notes that holistic improvement in WASH has impacted the overall quality of education, thus increasing the district pass rate to over seven in every ten children in primary school. 

water, sanitation, hygiene, clean water, water supply, WASH, WASH in schools, Uganda, Iceland Government, West Nile, schools, handwashing, clean hands, refugees, host communities, safe hands, menstrual hygiene management, MHM, menstruation, school enrolment, girls education, school completion, school retention
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Mugisha

Water for lunch

At Unaa Primary School, the water supply also has greatly boosted the school feeding programme through direct water supply to the school kitchen, eliminating the need to send children to the borehole to fetch water for school cooking. 

When the lunch bell rings, scores of children run out of their classes, some to the playground, others make a beeline for the water tap that can accommodate an average of eight children at a go.

12-year-old Ivan in Primary Five lets the water run through his hands, with a big grin.

“I take water about six times a day.”

The head teacher explains that prior to the installation of the water system, there were frequent fights as the older children jostled with the younger ones for a chance to drink water. The community members too always had their jerrycans lined up at the shared borehole and would not want to give way to the children. Now they all drink water at will.

The impact however has been greatest for the girl child. 

Alice Minzira, the Senior Woman Teacher at Nyumazi is at a loss of words when trying to explain impact of the WASH facilities on girl learners.

“For eight years, I personally felt the pain of girls missing school because of menstruation,” Alice says. “But now, having the girls consistently attend class because they have access to abundant water and can even make and properly dispose of their sanitary pads.”

There is a long pause as she stares in the air. 

“I don’t even know what words to use.”

The Senior Woman teacher at another beneficiary school, Amelo Primary in Pakele Sub County, Adjumani District, explains that boreholes were a black spot for child protection as children would spend hours waiting to fetch water and, in the process, get involved in harmful activities. At the motorised taps, the water flows fast and there are no queues, the children fetch water and go home. Every week, Alice teaches the members of the menstrual hygiene management club how to manage menstruation including how to make reusable pads. Twenty of the club’s 50 members are boys.

“Few parents ever speak to their children about menstruation, often the girls are clueless on how to handle menstruation and the boys consider it a shameful thing. Now they all know that menstruation is normal.

By end of 2021, the WASH facilities in the schools were directly benefiting 9,400 learners across refugee hosting districts in West Nile including 15-year-old Nyandeng, a refugee from South Sudan.

“During menstruation I would just stay home, but now I can enter the girl’s bathroom, bathe, dispose of my pad, wear a fresh one that I made myself and no one will even know that I am having my period. No one should know,” she narrates.

water, sanitation, hygiene, clean water, water supply, WASH, WASH in schools, Uganda, Iceland Government, West Nile, schools, handwashing, clean hands, refugees, host communities, safe hands, menstrual hygiene management, MHM, menstruation, school enrolment, girls education, school completion, school retention
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Mugisha

At the schools, the WASH facilities are operated and maintained by a management committee comprising teachers, student representatives and the school security guard. At Amelo Primary School, the village members financed the construction of a brick fence around the community water taps, with a small gate that is opened at 8 am and closed at 6pm. Whoever fetches water must leave his/her shoes at the entrance. The gate key is held by the chairperson of the Water User Committee who explains the community’s somewhat strict rules governing access to the water

‘We do not want to go back to where we came from, so we carefully look after the water taps.’ 

UNICEF Uganda/2022