When all it takes to keep a student in the classroom is a good toilet
The Mukono Urban Sanitation Programme is implemented by Mukono Municipal Council in partnership with UNICEF Uganda, with funding from the Finnish National Committee for UNICEF.
The students at Bishop Senior School in Central Division, Mukono Municipality had a seemingly peculiar habit. They would remove their school sweaters and sometimes even shirts and hang them on a tree branch right before entering the pit latrine. Upon leaving the latrine, most students loitered outside for up to thirty minutes before returning to class.
A sanitary thorn in the flesh
Robert Kyakulaga the head teacher of the church-founded school with a current population of over 2600 learners, notes that though Bishop Senior School was moving towards its goal of being a centre of excellence, it consistently failed in one area – sanitary facilities. The school’s ventilated improved pit latrines would fill fast, had an awful stench that could be smelled from metres away, and were perpetually maggot-infested.
For ten years, the school searched for a workable solution including pouring drugs in the pits bi weekly to eliminate the maggots and emptying the latrines twice a year, with 20-25 trips per emptying session, all to no avail. “It was a real thorn in the flesh,” Robert notes.
The students couldn’t agree more.
According to 15-year-old Irene* who has been at the school for three years, she would avoid going to the toilet unless it was absolutely necessary. Often times, some class members could tell and make fun of whoever had visited the toilet just by the rancid stench on their clothes.
In August 2022, the headteacher, at his wits end, heard about the Mukono Urban Sanitation Programme and invited the municipality officials for a visit.
Initiated in January 2022, the Mukono Urban Sanitation Programme is being run by the Municipal Council in partnership with UNICEF Uganda, with funding from the Finnish National Committee for UNICEF. The Programme Goal is to contribute to the reduction in life-threatening WASH related diseases and creation of a clean environment for communities and schools through innovative self-sustaining sanitation service systems. The programme focuses on creating demand for sanitation services as well as supporting sustainable supply of basic sanitation facilities, basing on a municipal-approved pit latrine model that is drainable, reusable, with a soak pit, a septic tank, easy to clean and fitted with a plastic sato pan that keeps away vermin and odours. A key component of the programme is sanitation financing, under which partner financial institutions provide sanitation loans to the public. Bishop Senior School was one of the first recipients of the sanitation loan.
According to the school headteacher, although upgrading to a model sanitation facility was a sure solution to the school’s sanitation challenges, bank financing was an answered prayer as the school could only afford to raise the money in tranches and yet there were only two weeks left to the beginning of the new school term.
The headteacher immediately applied to Mukono Church of Uganda Diocese SACCO for a sanitation loan of UGX30 million (US$7,727) at an interest of five per cent with a four-month repayment period.
No more maggots, no more smell, no more fear.
When Bishop Senior School reopened for second term in September 2022, there was a marked difference in the air. For the first time in years, there was no smell emanating from the two-block pit latrines, the floor was lined with clean tiles and a plastic sato pan fit snugly over each of the 24 stances, with no single maggot in sight.
The students cheered loudly during assembly as the headteacher spoke regarding the upgraded facilities that had taken 14 construction workers led by a municipality-trained mason, 14 days to complete.
There are no more sweaters or shirts lining the outer structure of the pit latrines, and no students loitering outside the classrooms.
Alicia*, a Form Four Student gaily walks to the girls block of the newly upgraded latrine structure, saying “Now I can visit the toilet anytime, with my sweater on.”
The head teacher is certain that the current state of the new sanitary facilities will have a positive impact on the students’ academic performance, revealing the long term plan to increase the number of sanitary facilities in the school, towards a lower pupil - stance ratio so that learners spend less time in the toilet and more time in the classroom.
“Now we can truly be an all-round centre of excellence because if children grow up in a safe and sanitary environment, their learning improves,” the headteacher concludes.