When Africare and Tanzania’s Ministry of Water conducted water quality tests at 15 target schools in the Dodoma Region, each school’s water source was found to be contaminated with fecal matter or coliform bacteria, an indicator of fecal pathogens.By attending school and drinking water, two essential parts of a young person’s life, these students were risking serious illness. Africare’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) in Schools project’s mission was to reduce the disease burden among students, staff and the wider community by improving water and sanitation infrastructure and promoting positive hygiene behavior. With funding from a collection of donors – Proctor & Gamble, the African Well Fund, Water for Life, and the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group – Africare sustainably introduced rainwater harvesting systems, students’ and teachers’ latrines, water purification sachets, and hygiene and sanitation education, benefiting 7,640 students.
At present, 14 of the 15 schools now have brand new latrine facilities, and the fifteenth is being constructed under the direction of district authorities. Prior to the project, many of the schools’ latrines were pits surrounded by rudimentary structures of corrugated tin, sticks or hay. Now the schools possess sturdy stone latrines with private stalls. Five of the schools also now have separate teachers’ latrines.
In addition to major upgrades in sanitary facilities, schools received new systems for clean water sources. Assessments showed that 11 of the 15 schools had no source of potable water, so WASH in Schools installed rainwater harvesting infrastructures in all 11 schools. Gutters catch the rain, filter out debris and slope into large tanks fitted with a tap.
The rainwater harvesting systems typically include a 5,000 liter tank, but with populations of several hundred students, schools will eventually deplete that storage during the months of the dry season. When rains stop and the water stores run out, students must again turn to potentially contaminated water sources. WASH in Schools acted to bridge this period of vulnerability with the distribution of water purification sachets. The project has delivered a total 36,000 sachets to the schools, and a second round of deliveries in the coming months will bring the total to 1,011,000.
The interventions mentioned above yield the biggest numbers and most impressive images, but to Africare the most important aspect of any WASH project is hygiene and sanitation education. Other measures are ultimately pointless if beneficiaries are not educated on the importance of sanitation, basic hygiene practices, and how to use and maintain their new infrastructure. During latrine construction, Africare organized on-site training for two local artisans in each village. The artisans worked hand-in-hand with building brigades during the construction job, and moving forward they will support the maintenance and repair of the structures. Similarly, two teachers at each of the 15 schools completed training to conduct health education sessions during school and homeroom assemblies every week. These teachers worked with the project to create WASH health clubs that mobilize students in the regular cleaning of school compounds and latrines. Each school also participated in five sensitization sessions that highlighted the importance of safe drinking water, the use of latrines, hand washing after defecation, hand washing before meals, and washing fruits and vegetables. Finally, the distribution of purification sachets is always accompanied by demonstrations on how to use them properly.
Appreciation for the project has come from students, faculty, communities and local government authorities as well as national political leaders. Member of Parliament for Dodoma Region’s Bahi Ward, Hon. Omary Ahmed Badwell, volunteered to officiate an opening ceremony for WASH latrines at the Mayamaya and Zanka schools, and in his address he praised the quality of construction and urged communities to ensure proper maintenance of the facilities.
More than seven thousand students, their teachers and members of neighboring villages now possess the basic hardware and the critical knowledge required to safeguard themselves and their communities from disease. Fifteen schools are now cleaner, more attractive environments to students who have incentives to attend and to take pride in doing so. The WASH in Schools project has shifted control of sanitation into the hands of the local population, and they are ready to protect themselves and future classes for years to come.