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How rehabilitation of school toilets is boosting learning for children in Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2018/Al Romaim
© UNICEF Yemen/2018/Al Romaim
Mohammed walks into the new toilet in his school. Before the rehabilitation of the toilets, he would have to go far where no students could see him to urinate in the open.

By Najwa Al Romain

Sana’a, 20 February 2018 - Mohamed is a ninth-grade student at Al Mahdhar School, located high up on a plateau, travelling east along an uneven road out of the city of Sana’a. Being diabetic, having a functioning toilet is particularly important for Mohamed. ‘I feel like my bladder is about to explode every half an hour and I need to use the toilet badly. So I often have to leave my classes to go to the toilet”, Mohamed said. Then adding, ‘but if I needed to use the toilet during break-time when all the students were hanging around in the playground, there was nowhere private to go. So I used to have to wait for 20 minutes till the break was over; you can’t even imagine how bad the pain was as I counted down the minutes which felt like hours.’

And pain wasn’t the only concern for Mohamed. Every day he used to have to bring 1.5 liters of water to school so he could clean himself after urinating. Luckily there is no need for that anymore; UNICEF has supported the refurbishment of the toilets in his school and there is running water at last. Finally, Mohamed can get back to his studies. He is one of the top students in his class but because of the issues with the toilet he regularly skipped classes and admits that he hated school. ‘Now, going to school is one of the nicest things for me,’ he says happily.

Mohamed wasn’t the only student heavily afflicted by the lack of toilets in Al Mahdhar School. A few years below, Bakeel is a sixth-grade student. He suffers from kidney stones and is only 12 years old. Because of his illness, he regularly has to go to the toilet. ‘In the winter, it’s the worst,’ he said, ‘I have to go about once every twenty minutes.’

UNICEF Yemen/2018/Al Romaim
© UNICEF Yemen/2018/Al Romaim
Bakeel, a sixth-grade student, washes his hands after using the toilet at his school.

It’s no surprise that Bakeel was happy when UNICEF came to refurbish the toilets. He said gratefully, ‘I feel more comfortable now in school, and I am no longer worried about how frequently I need to go to the toilet. Before they were just closed, but now I can go whenever I want as there is a clean toilet and water is available as well.’

Whilst Al Mahdhar School has mainly male students, the first three grades are mixed with girls and boys. Before the refurbishment, it was the young girls, such as Enas and Abrar, who suffered the most. They are both in the third grade.

With an innocent and shy smile, Enas said, ‘before we had the new toilets in our school, I had to go home when I needed the toilet so I missed loads of my class time. This meant I struggled a lot in my classes, but now I don’t have this problem.’ For Abrar, the issue was slightly different. ‘My mum just didn’t let me drink any water before I left for school in the morning, so that I wouldn’t need to go to the toilet. I was so thirsty all day long, until I went back home again,’ said Abrar. With a newfound confidence Abrar says, ‘I am so happy that I can drink water any time, whenever I want.’

The war in Yemen has led to full or partial closure of nearly 2,000 schools. Several of them are either destroyed or partially damaged and are in urgent need of repair to improve the learning environment. Thanks to the support from KfW Development Bank, UNICEF is now providing support for the refurbishing of WASH facilities in schools. In 2017, UNICEF improved WASH facilities in 232 schools across the country, including Al Mahdhar School in the Amant Al Asimah governorate. 



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