Providing water in schools boosts learning and attendance, especially for girls

“While we were out fetching water, classes continued and by the time we returned, the learners would be ahead of us."

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
water supply, water source, clean water, safe water, learning, schools, girls education, menstrual hygiene management, Karamoja, Uganda, latrines
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko
31 August 2020

Loodoi Primary School, located in Napak District, Karamoja sub-region, lies along a rocky belt that doesn’t allow sinking of boreholes, making it difficult for the school to get enough water. Despite numerous attempts by district authorities and partners, drilling boreholes was futile. The school operated with insufficient water for years, affecting children’s learning environment. The nearest borehole was about 4 kilometres away on a highway.

With little and sometimes no water at all, pupils, and more often girls, were sent to fetch water for cleaning and cooking at school. Handwashing with soap and water was not considered a priority so the pupils spent the day and ate their food with dirty hands. 

Located in a region with a hot climate, the pupils at Loodoi were often thirsty and would go to collect unsafe water from nearby sources. Many contracted typhoid, a bacterial infection from contaminated water that can be fatal.

Esther Lomma, a Primary 7 pupil and the secretary of the UNICEF-supported water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) club, remembers those days. She was one of those students who would trek to the faraway borehole for water.

“While we were out fetching water, classes continued and by the time we returned, the learners would be ahead of us. You miss out. You have not heard the explanations by the teacher, and he/she would not repeat them,”

she shared.

Sometimes they would find that the lesson was over and another was in session. 

When it came to menstrual hygiene, the adolescent girls suffered. If any of them wanted to clean up, there was no water. If they soiled their uniform, there was nothing they could do about it. Many would go home with soiled uniforms, and because of the humiliation, they never returned to school. “We had very high dropout rates,” confirmed Betty Volla Napeyok, the head teacher of the school.

Thankfully, in 2019, Loodoi Primary School was selected as one of the beneficiary schools of the UNICEF-supported WASH in schools programme implemented by Cooperation and Development. The programme benefits 88 primary schools and 12 secondary schools and is funded by the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). 

water supply, water source, clean water, safe water, learning, schools, girls education, menstrual hygiene management, Karamoja, Uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko

With water extended to the school compound through a solar-powered motorized system, school enrolment has been greatly boosted with a total enrolment of 504 pupils. Pupils no longer worry about fetching water and missing classes. Some of the pupils, especially girls, who had dropped out due to the lack of water, have since returned. 

The attendance of girls is at 100 per cent. There is plenty of water for them to use during menstruation. “Today, soiling a uniform does not mean a girl goes home. No. Instead they just rush to the washroom, turn the tap on, bathe and in a few minutes, they are back to class, clean and neat,” Betty shares. “Isn’t that amazing?”

clean water, safe water, school, safe school environment, menstrual hygiene, menstruation hygiene management, MHM, education, latrines
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko
water supply, water source, clean water, safe water, learning, schools, girls education, menstrual hygiene management, Karamoja, Uganda, latrines
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Adriko

In addition to the water, KOICA funding has helped to construct two latrine stances for both boys and girls at the school. The girls’ wing has an incinerator that supports disposal of sanitary towels and a washroom. Both units are disability friendly and clean too.

Hygiene education is also part of the WASH programme. Through the WASH clubs, pupils are sensitized on proper sanitation and hygiene practices and sent out to the communities as ambassadors to spread the messages. “What we teach them here at school is replicated in their homes and communities,” Betty asserts.

WASH club members also carry out community sensitization drives where they use drama skits, poems and songs to promote good sanitation and hygiene. Their efforts have borne fruit in nearby communities that they have visited. One village has been declared open defecation free, with the school proud to have contributed to this achievement through its WASH club members.

The club members also ensure children in the school are clean and supervise the general cleanliness of the school. Through the club, pupils have also acquired skills like making liquid soap, which supports handwashing in the school, and making reusable sanitary pads that they provide to adolescent girls. 

Betty is confident that during the COVID-19 lockdown, when the children are idle, skills like these come in handy and home-made products can be sold to boost household income. 

With KOICA support, the school has installed mass handwashing troughs in the middle of the school compound. One is lower for the younger pupils and a higher one for pupils in upper classes. The troughs have been designed so that 10 pupils can wash their hands at the same time, to prevent queues. A separate tap is connected at the end of the trough for those who want to quench their thirst.

“The water is available for the pupils all the time, and it safe and very cool to drink,”

says Betty.

Water is connected to all corners of the school; pupils don’t need to carry containers from one end to the other. Tap stands have been extended to the dormitories, the teachers’ houses and the kitchen. The surrounding community has also benefited with its own stand-alone taps.

To support balanced meals for the pupils, vegetable gardens too have been cultivated and the school water is supporting the sprouting leaves. While schools are closed, the vegetables are still watered and prepared for the teachers but when children return, they will supplement their daily school meals. 

Joyce Nakoya, the Napak District Education Officer stresses that the benefits of the WASH facilities provided by UNICEF through the KOICA cannot go unnoticed. “We lost too many children when this school had no water. Children were not happy because they had to travel distances to collect water instead of being in class. With these facilities, the dropout rates have reduced. The girls are in school and I am confident that the school will attract even more pupils,” she says.

And during this time when schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce confirms that she can confidently tell the government that schools like Loodoi are ready to support the return of pupils because they have plenty of water and soap to support handwashing, which is critical to protecting children and teachers from the disease. 

To further prepare for school re-opening, two additional mass handwashing troughs have been strategically constructed at the entrance of the school to ensure no one enters the school before they wash their hands.