A Thousand Students and No Latrines
Samba Ndiaye put the finishing touches on the last of 16 new latrines last April.
Two weeks prior, Peace Corps Volunteers Abigail and Laura had completed their final joint handwashing /soap-making training with students and parents at the biggest primary school in their area of the Kolda region. At the end of the training, they discussed the importance in taking care of the nine existing latrines at the school that had recently been repaired by a mason and a plumber.
The original idea for this project had been conceived in a conversation between Laura and the principal of this school, who is based in the village. When he mentioned the lack of functional latrines at the school, she decided to take on this issue as her first project. As it turned out, the problem was not uncommon. The extreme poverty of the commune (rural community) had meant that only the middle school had been able to provide functional latrines to its students, despite the fact that the commune supports a pre-school, three elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school.
Both the primary school and the pre-school that Laura visited had latrines, but they were in such a state of disrepair that they could not be used. The other two primary schools had no latrines at all. The situation in the neighboring commune, where Health Volunteer Abigail resides, was similarly bleak. Four of 10 schools had neither access to latrines nor running water. This led to widespread hygiene-related disease outbreaks and exacerbated the existing problem of gender imbalances. This is particularly problematic at higher levels of schooling, as teen girls who have reached puberty often choose to stay home during their monthly period for lack of adequate hygiene resources.
The goals of the project were to improve overall sanitation practices and to increase regular school attendance of female students in the two communes. Work was split into two parts: construction and capacity-building activities. Construction ran over the course of three months beginning in February, 2017. One mason worked with an assistant mason in every village to construct the new latrines. A second mason and a plumber were responsible for the rehabilitation of 13 latrines at two schools. When construction was completed in late April, a small amount of money was left over in the budget. This money was then used to connect the new latrines at one of the project schools with the main pipeline connecting homes with water in the host village. This involved installing new piping between the pipeline and school’s latrines, as well as building a faucet as part of a handwashing station.
The capacity-building activities ran concurrent with the construction. Laura and Abigail visited all eight schools to conduct joint handwashing /soap-making sessions with students, teachers, and parents. They also hosted two brainstorming sessions with the teachers and principals from the eight schools to discuss obstacles to female school attendance and what can be done to decrease them. In total, the trainings and brainstorming sessions were attended by more than 700 children, 200 adults, and 30 teachers.
Once the new school year starts in October, 2017, Laura will visit the participating schools to check on the state of the latrines, test the retention of knowledge from the handwashing trainings and conduct additional trainings.