Clean water and toilets can make a world of difference, just ask the teachers and children at Kimangora Primary School in Kenya.
Since the school got new toilets and clean water in September last year, the diseases that hampered pupils’ health and education are becoming a thing of the past.
“We used to have a fluctuation in attendance,” said Solomon Chepkwony, a teacher at the Bomet County school.
“We had pupils who would be here for one school term, and then not show for the second. That was because of ill health and poor facilities.
“We only had two toilets that were being shared by more than 60 pupils and staff. The toilets were terrible because they were being used by so many people. They would become very dirty and smelly.
“Instead of using them, children would defecate outside.”
Where’s the clean water?
Bomet County, in the west of Kenya, is a picturesque part of the country. The rolling verdant hills are dotted with tea plantations and fields of crops.
A lack of water is not the issue. The county receives enough rainfall over a year to sustain its agricultural industry.
However, the lack of clean water and toilet facilities in rural communities lead to widespread health problems.
Diarrhoea and infections such as intestinal worms, trachoma and schistosomiasis are common as people have to take water from contaminated sources such as rivers and pans (open ponds).
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.
What’s more, the average distance travelled to fetch water in the county is two kilometres (1.2 miles). This is normally done on foot and the burden usually falls upon women and girls.
A brighter future
The Kenya Red Cross has partnered with the county government to undertake a water and sanitation project to help improve the situation.
Some 55,000 people across the county, including ten schools, are benefitting from the work.
It is being jointly funded by the county government and UK government funding made available through the British Red Cross’ Clean Start Appeal.
Kimangora Primary School is one of the schools that has been helped by the project.
The school’s old toilets – small crooked structures made from corrugated iron – are still standing. But thankfully they are nothing more than reminders of what used to be.
Today they are dwarfed by two new colourful toilet blocks, each comprising five toilets.
The school also has access to clean water for the first time. A guttering system collects rain water from the roofs of the school buildings and directs it into a 25,000-litre water tank.
The water is treated before being drunk and is also used in hand-washing facilities outside the toilets.
“The kids used to come to school with water from rivers or wells that was not fit for human consumption,” said Solomon.
“We now have more than enough water. In fact, we share it with the local community.”
But this isn’t about building toilets and water tanks then waiting for the situation to improve. It’s vital that pupils understand the importance of good hygiene.
As part of the project, teachers from each of the ten schools have received health training. For example, on how to wash hands and why it’s important to keep the school clean.
Teachers have also received training on menstrual hygiene. A lack of awareness among pupils, families and staff about menstruation – a previously taboo subject – contributed to poor attendance at the school.
Equipped with this new knowledge, the teachers have formed health clubs at their respective schools, where they teach pupils about health and hygiene.
Alex Kipngeno is one of 35 pupils who attend the school health club at Kimangora. The 11-year-old is a keen footballer and Arsenal fan – even this remote corner of Kenya is not immune to the appeal of the Premier League.
“We used to bring water from a well near our home,” said Alex. “The water was dirty. I used to get sick quite often, but I didn’t know that it was the water that was making me sick.
“Now we have nice toilets and water is no longer a problem. When I’m older I want to be a teacher. I will tell the children that they will not get sick if they wash their hands.”
Kimangora Primary School is a good example of how a little bit of investment and education can have a big impact. Absenteeism is down, enrolment is up, and grades have improved, according to teachers.
But the wider community has also benefited.
“Before the Red Cross came here, the majority of people would defecate along the roadside,” said Solomon, who helps run the school health club.
“You would see it every day when walking up the road. Now the children shout at someone if they see them defecating outside.
“So what has been learnt here is transferred to their homes and the wider community.”
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.
- Kenya’s dirty water: Three simple steps, one huge difference
- How your donations will change lives in Bangladesh
All images ©BritishRedCross/RiccardoGangale