Mwasanga Primary School, in Mbeya, went through a period of high health risks after the only toilets that were servicing the 1,200 pupils at the school, collapsed due to heavy rainfall. This prompted the management to close the school in fear of pupils getting diseases from continuing to use the already run-down toilets.
The 1,200 pupils at the school, who seat around 170 in one class room, with 5 pupils sharing a desk, now have something to smile about. Following the collapse of the only toilets they depended upon, the school's Head Teacher Kenethy Antony, with support from the local government and community embarked on a project to help with the situation.
Through the School Wash Sanitation and Hygiene (SWASH) Programme by the Mbeya City Council, the community was involved and educated on the importance of supporting the school to get modern toilets.
In dire need
Before efforts to build new toilets were initiated, the school had to be closed for almost one month between May-June 2017. Some girls confessed to changing their sanitary towels in the bushes following the washroom crisis.
Through the SWASH programme, the community managed to collect Sh8 million, Sh10 million came from the City Council and Sh4.5 million from the Ministry of Education through and Sh2million from Mbeya constituent fund, making a total of Sh24.5 million.
Johnson Ndalo, Mbeya City Council Health Officer, says through his visit at the school in 2013, he realised the school's toilets were in very bad condition and so he decided to call for a meeting with local leaders to introduce the idea of community participation to raise money for construction of new toilets.
He says the idea to build improved toilets, included special toilets for pupils with disabilities as well as a special changing room for menstruating girls. These additions came following health guidelines that aim to promote improved toilets.
The Health Officer says parents worked very hard to mobilise contributions for the project, but they later slowed down so the school had to be closed since it was not safe for pupils to continue using toilets that were no longer fit for usage.
The closure of the school made parents put more effort in the mobilisation process by speeding up contributions.
"Parents involvement in contributing towards children education is a bit tricky. This is because the fee free education policy details the limitations of parents' contribution in school projects," he says.
He further stated that managing to make the toilet project a success wasn't an easy task. However, involving local leaders in the process of requesting for money from parents helped a lot and at the end of the day the school now has a modern toilet.
Mercedes Manga, a teacher at Mwasanga Primary School, applauds the idea of haing changing rooms for menstruating girls. The idea came about after realising some girls would skip classes during their menstruation since the school had no access to rooms that provided privacy and sanitary towels. The special room has sanitary pads, too.
She says, they have taught pupils on the importance of keeping the toilets clean. To ensure that cleanliness is adhered to, the pupils are advised to report each other to school management when one pupil doesn't clean the toilet soon after using it.
Shakira Musa, 14, is a Standard Six pupil at Mwasanga Primary School. She says the special room helps a lot of girls at her school when they are menstruating. Apart from getting pads in the 'special' room, it provides privacy for girls.
"Before having this modern toilet majority of girls stayed at home during menstruation period since we had no pads, clean toilets, water and most of the toilets had no doors. It forced us to ask fellow pupils to stand in front of the door as we change pads. That has remained a story for now," says Shakira.
James Kyando, a Standard VI pupil, says majority of boys tend to leave the toilets unclean soon after they use them. "Reporting to teachers has helped us improve with keeping our toilets clean," he says.
Adding to that, he says reporting each other to the teachers has made them [pupils] know the importance of keeping toilets clean. Any pupil who uses the toilet and doesn't clean-up afterwards, is subjected to punishment. As a result, this has made them become more responsible when using the new toilets.
Water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.
Children have a right to basic facilities such as school toilets, safe drinking water, clean surroundings and basic information on hygiene. ... Teachers as influential individuals, supported by the school management committees, play an important catalytic role.
Some public schools in Tanzania do not have good toilets. Students end up getting exposed to many kinds of diseases.
As a community, there's a need for everyone to come together in a common effort to help schools that need good working toilets. As part of hygiene, having a good, clean, and well-functioning toilet is a step in the right direction towards curbing any preventable disease.
The importance of toilets in schools shouldn't be ignored at all. This matter should be taken seriously.