When it comes to education, it’s usually the role of the parents to encourage and inspire their children to learn.
Not so for Magdalene Langat. The gregarious mother-of-three isn’t shy in admitting that it’s her children who are inspiring her to learn.
“I’m studying maths and Kiswahili,” said Magdalene, with a proud smile etched across her face.
“I wanted to enrol for adult education as I’ve seen how well my kids have been doing at school.”
Her three children, Anderson, Boniface and Frida, attend Tebeswet Primary School in Kenya’s Bomet County.
While they have always studied hard, their education used to be interrupted by bouts of sickness – sickness brought on by having to drink dirty water.
“There was an outbreak of cholera here and they all contracted it,” said Magdalene. “They had to stay home for a long time, but they were okay eventually.”
Other water-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, also used to be prevalent among pupils.
Repeated bouts of diarrhoea can damage the gut to the point where it can no longer absorb nutrients. This contributes significantly to malnutrition and, in the longer term, stunting.
Around 40 per cent of the population in Bomet County is affected by stunting, meaning they are shorter than normal for their age.
“We used to collect water from the river about 30 minutes away, which wasted time for the children before school had even started,” said head teacher Joel Korir.
“We were severely hit by cholera in 2014 for the first time. The children were using dirty containers to collect dirty water.
“The water is seriously polluted. It’s not good for drinking, but there was no alternative.
“Our health problems became so acute that the school’s performance began to drop. There was chronic absenteeism.”
This is not an exceptional tale; it is the norm for many schools in the region. Imagine sending your children to school knowing that it would adversely affect their health.
What’s more, Joel explained how the school toilets collapsed every year during the rainy season.
“Every year I would put up new toilets. That takes time and money,” he added.
Running for the toilet
Fortunately for Magdalene’s children – and the other 400 pupils at the school – things have improved markedly in recent months.
The school is one of 14 in the area that is benefitting from a water and sanitation project by the Kenya Red Cross and Bomet county government.
The work is jointly funded by the county government and UK government funding made available through the British Red Cross’ Clean Start Appeal.
In November, a new 25,000-litre water tank was installed at Tebeswet Primary School, which harvests rain water.
The water is treated before being drunk or used for cooking. Children no longer go to the river to fetch water while at school.
Ten new permanent toilets have also recently been completed – they were officially opened on World Water Day in March.
Sharon Chebet, 14, said: “The old school toilets were really bad. The younger children were scared to use them as they were infested with insects.”
When the new toilets were declared open, a veritable stampede of children flew across the school’s playing field to inspect their new facilities.
The Red Cross has also helped the school to establish a health club, where children learn about the importance of good hygiene.
“We teach the young children how to use the toilets and at home I teach my siblings and my parents about the importance of cleanliness,” added Sharon.
And as Magdalene pointed out, it’s the children who can inspire a better future for the community.
“My children wash their hands before they handle anything at home. I’m learning from them,” beamed Magdalene. “They are no longer drinking dirty water and no longer getting sick like they used to.
“We are grateful for this work. When you start with the children, the future will be better for everyone.”
- Read more: Talking toilets over tea in Kenya
- Read more: Clean water and toilets – it’s child’s play in Kenya
- Thank you to everyone who donated to our Clean Start Appeal, which raised £6.5 million. Your support unlocked £5 million from the UK government to help fund safe water and sanitation projects for 255,000 people across Kenya and Bangladesh.
All images ©BritishRedCross/RiccardoGangale