Empowerment is key to sustaining clean environment around schools

18 March 2015

Empowerment of primary school learners is an area that is needed to be considered seriously if total sanitation is to be realized. I was part of the team that visited Achilet Primary Schools in Uganda’s Tororo District alongside colleagues from Plan International’s Australia, Kenya, and Uganda Offices as well as colleagues from research institutions like Institute for Development Studies (IDS) – UK and the International Water Center (IRC) Netherlands.

The clean environment was witness to the activeness of both learners and teachers at the school. Benefitting from the local community, the school’s alumni and support from Plan International and the government of Uganda, Achilet stands out on how they manage their sanitation and hygiene situation.

Holding the meeting with the learners they indicated in turns what motivated them to be part of the School Health Club, ‘We were concerned with how bad our environment was and wanted to do ‘something’ about it!’ this something, meant taking charge of their sanitation issues and supporting fellow learners to practice good sanitation and hygiene. The learners have managed to develope class rosters that are supposed to give guidance on who is supposed to do what.

This means that when it is one class’s turn at cleaning the other class will be filling in the hand washing drums at both ends of girls and boy latrines. The close involvement of learners into sanitation and hygiene points out to the reason why the latrines are so clean without soiling especially the girl’s latrines. The role that is played by the Sanitation and Hygiene Matrons can no go without mention. They keep a close eye on all the school latrines so that they are clean at all times, this on its own is an encouragement to the learners. Plan International Uganda has facilitated the formation of a ‘national anthem’ which is apparently sang in all schools under Plan impact area in Uganda. The sanitation anthem helps the pupils to be reminded of their obligations. Plan is doing a tremendous job in facilitating the different changes at school level.

In the delivery of total sanitation, Achilet Primary School combines three different clubs which are work together. Primary School Governance, School Health and Menstrual Hygiene Management Clubs combine to realize and provide for the sanitation and hygiene needs at the school. While most schools practicing School Led Total Sanitation have the School Health/Sanitation and MHM Clubs, what I found outstanding and totally innovative at Achilet was the fact that they closely identified the two clubs with the School Governance Club. In governance, the learners are given the voice and take authorities to task about their entitlements.

Sanitation and hygiene sensitive as it is, the learners realized that it was their right to a safe and hygienic environment and they advocated for good latrines which they were provided but at the same time governance imparted them the skills to be responsible hence the realization of total sanitation, the how of it is explained in the different roles that learners per each class assign themselves to make sure that sanitation is the core business. Achilet Primary School has a total of 40 latrines (20 for females and 20 for boys) with a ratio of 1 latrines approximately being used by less than 40 learners.

Dan Kapatuka is Program Area Manager for Plan Malawi in Mulanje.