Loroo Primary School pupils enjoy the abundance of water provided by UNICEF and KOICA
They just love the water!
When you visit Loroo Primary School in Amudat, which is regarded as Uganda’s remotest and most arid district, what strikes you first is the general cleanliness of the children. In comparison to children in the rest and affluent parts of the country, the kids of Loroo Primary School are remarkably clean. You would think they do not play, yet they do. But they wash, keep washing and wash again.
The difference between the one hundred schools in Karamoja sub-region (of which Loroo is just one) that have benefitted from the piped water supply extended by the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) with UNICEF and other schools in the country, is that here the children regard using water in abundance as a privilege that they did not have two years ago. Elsewhere in the country, cleaning chores are generally regarded as a punishment by children.
Loroo Head Teacher, Agnes Acayo, confesses that virtually the only discipline problem she now faces is keeping the children away from the showers and the laundry area. They just love the water. Who wouldn’t, if for the whole of your life until a year ago, you had never had a full bath save for a few times when you braved several kilometres’ trek to a seasonal river where you shared the muddy water with hundreds of cattle?
“The hygiene situation was simply horrible a couple of years back, Agnes Acayo says. “The children had to walk three kilometres a day to the nearest river where they would jostle with locals and pastoralists to get water, and when they brought it the first priority was for cooking. School life was so painful that absenteeism was high as children avoided the water trips. They started throwing away the water cans and fleeing. Some daring kids fled to Kenya where some schools had water. Others dropped out, with the girls ending up in early marriage. The few who remained were dirty, sleepy and obviously performed poorly in exams.”
The drilling of boreholes at or near the schools not only made water available on site, but it was also made completely effortless because of the motorized pumping using solar power and piping it to different places especially bathrooms, the kitchen and other wash points in the school. This was all made possible, thanks to UNICEF support with funding from KOICA for the water, sanitation and hygiene I school programme.
And what is more, under the same programme, the children also learn to make liquid soap, with the ingredients provided. So, with an endless flow of piped water and soap made by themselves, their cleaning everything is bordering on an obsession with the girls of Loroo.
In savouring the new era of hygiene, the boys of Loroo are not any different from the girls. In fact, they are also deeply involved in the other component of the intervention – making reusable menstrual pads. Watching the boys cutting and stitching under the supervision of the senior woman teacher, they appear as if they are the intended user of the pads. This particular exercise alone is nurturing better understanding between boys and girls, in a society traditionally run under unflinching male chauvinism.
Two years ago, Loroo Primary School was on the verge of closure, as the learners’ numbers were dwindling to negligible. Today, after the provision of running water, a new problem has emerged – oversubscription. There are 643 children, which is about twice the number the school was built to handle, but the pressure is on to admit more. The main attraction, running water, also ensures punctuality, as the children report to school very early so as to take a bath before classes begin. And they take another bath before returning home, while those who can, grab another quick shower in between. It is a daily water party.
Another touching development following the water supply is the entry of children with disabilities.
At 13 years of age, Abraham Omodo has no legs. They were blown off when he stepped on a landmine in this volatile area some years ago. He is in Primary Two and manoeuvres his way around well on prosthetic limbs and crutches.
Previously, it was unimaginable for such children to go to any school where the first activity is carrying water over a three-kilometre-distance, or any distance. Today, Loroo has 18 children with disabilities: 15 boys and 3 girls.
The mood at Loroo Primary School is generally good and spirits were further raised last month when the school emerged top at the district music competition in which 20 schools participated. Before when they couldn’t bathe and were wiping their hands and utensils on their clothes after meals, the children of Loroo wouldn’t have dreamt of taking part in, let alone winning such a competition.
Water indeed makes many things possible, including giving confidence.