Access to safe water and sanitation still remains a barrier to the future of millions of school-going children across the continent of Africa despite it being a fundamental human right. It is estimated that these young minds lose 443 million school days each year due to water-related illnesses (water.org). For the pupils of Kijrjir Primary School in Narok West Sub-County, in Narok County, in Kenya, the situation is dire. The area is arid and because of perennial droughts, most rivers and streams have dried up.
According to the school’s headteacher Mr David Nkanata, the school does not have a reliable source of safe water for drinking, and they are forced to depend on a seasonal stream that is 4 kilometres away from the school. Mr Nkanata says that they have been forced to ask children to come with water every day before class starts, which they use for cooking for the pupils and maintaining the cleanliness of school facilities. This has led to a lot of his students missing school because they sometimes have to walk long distances in search of water, and by the time they get back, they are too tired to attend classes. Sometimes even when they do manage to attend class, they are too tired to concentrate, which significantly affects their school performance.
Class attendance is not the only thing affected by the lack of safe water. Mr Nkanata adds that they are also not able to properly teach the new school curriculum because of the same problem. According to him, “The pupils are required to have kitchen gardens as part of their school activities, but with lack of sufficient water, this is an impossible task…” The school has a two-door latrine for boys and another two-door latrine for girls, but none for teachers, which forces the teachers to share latrines with their students. With a school population of 260 children (120 boys and 140 girls), the latrines are hardly enough for them, which results in some of the children defecating in the open or classes being interrupted because of the long queues to use latrines during the break periods.
For the pubescent older girls who have already started their menses, many prefer to miss school during these days because they are not able to clean themselves or safely manage their menses in the available sanitation facilities. This results in most of them missing a week of school every month which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of their academic performance. Handwashing with soap especially in this COVID – 19 era is also not possible. Mr Nkanata says that even asking his pupils to bathe every day, and to at least wash their clothes twice a week is not possible. For the school pupils, consumption of water is a primary need, and with not enough to go around, water for sanitation and hygiene comes at a distant second.
Through the support of the 100% WASH project funded by the N2S foundation, the school will get its borehole rehabilitated so that it is able to serve both the pupils of Kijirjir Primary School and the surrounding community members. They will also have additional latrines constructed for them to relieve the pressure on the existing ones so that everyone is able to have a safe and dignified space where they can relieve themselves whenever nature calls. The project also plans to set up a water committee constituting of members from both the school and the community to ensure that the borehole is able to be properly maintained, to serve them beyond the life of the project.