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Otuke Distrikt, Uganda
The WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) program is launching a project at seven government elementary school to improve hygiene standards, menstrual hygiene and promote sustainable school structures, including various workshops. The seven project schools are located in Otuke district, a rural area in northern Uganda where the infrastructure in education and the supply of water and electricity has come to a partial standstill as a result of conflicts.
Most of the approximately 6,000 students come from financially weak families with a low level of education. There is no electricity at any of the schools and access to water is only partial. Sanitary facilities are lacking and those that are available are in a desolate condition. These circumstances make school attendance considerably more difficult, especially for girls. Together with our partner organization Link to Progress (LTP), we are therefore planning to build new sanitary facilities, establish a water supply, introduce school meals and offer accompanying workshops.
The seven state elementary school are located in an economically very weak, rural region in northern Uganda. The around 133,500 inhabitants of the Otuke district live in 356 villages, some of which are very isolated. Most families are farmers who earn their own living, 93% of the population is unemployed. Uganda’s conflict-ridden past has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, which has seriously damaged the access to education. Due to financial poverty, lack of resources and information, there is a shortage of civil and private engagement. Support from the education authority only covers basic expenses such as teachers’ salaries.
About 6,000 students at the elementary school learn without electricity, three out of seven schools are even without water supply. At the remaining four project schools, the local project partner Link to Progress (LTP) already built new fountains in January 2022. Overall, the hygienic situation is critical at all seven schools. Most of the latrines are in a dilapidated condition, partly unusable and offer no possibility for a hygienic toilet. For the large number of students, the hand-washing facilities are inadequate. Valuable teaching time is lost due to long queues in front of the sanitary facilities. For instance, 430 children share one sink and 78 children share one toilet. In comparison, according to Ugandan government guidelines, schools should have one toilet and one sink for 40 students each. The access to drinking water and sanitary facilities in the school is essential for the health and concentration of the students. In addition, the sanitary facilities make inclusive school attendance difficult because they are not barrier-free.
The lack of access to clean water and the insufficient latrines also lead to girls in particular staying away from school during their periods. For instance, almost a quarter of Ugandan girls between the ages of 12 and 18 drop out of school when their periods begin. The reasons are various, but can be traced back to a lack of adequate sanitary facilities and inadequate hygiene products.
The nutritional status of students is an important factor for the quality of education. Currently, there are no school meals at the project schools because the existing stoves are not sufficient for the number of children. For this reason, some students have to leave school early due to hunger, or do not show up at all.
In Uganda, the Covid-pandemic kept schools closed longer than in any other country in the world – for almost two years, students did not experience a regular school day. While the long school closures led to a further decline in the already precarious education situation in the country, the individual situation for the students is dramatic. Unlike in much of the world, students in many regions of Uganda had neither access to digital learning opportunities nor the means to catch up on important learning at home. As a result, many of the students are far behind in their school careers – in some cases having to start from scratch.
At the same time, the long school closure has worsened access to education for girls and boys. Many girls across Uganda are unable to find their way back to school due to pregnancy and marriage – teenage pregnancies and child marriages have risen dramatically with the pandemic. At the same time, boys are denied school attendance due to other supporting activities that provide income for the family.
The project addresses three key issues: Improving hygienic standards, increasing students’ knowledge of sexual maturity, puberty and menstruation, and promoting sustainable school structures.
The improvement of hygienic standards is achieved through the provision of a water supply, hygienic sanitary facilities, and knowledge transfer. The project plan therefore includes the construction of 3 fountains, 14 hand washing facilities, 12 latrine blocks including 6 washrooms for girls. In several workshops students learn how to use water and sanitary facilities as well as the importance of hygiene.
Especially in the workshops on menstrual hygiene and puberty, the older students learn about the female cycle and how they can make sanitary pads and other hygiene products themselves from simple materials. Breaking down taboos and spreading knowledge throughout the school community helps to ensure that female students are not absent from class because of their periods and do not suffer any educational disadvantage.
To promote sustainable school structures, we are working with local project partner LTP to strengthen school management committees and parent-teacher committees. In various workshops, parents and teachers can learn measures to improve the school, including the maintenance and management of the new fountains. Another central topic is the introduction of school meals. Meals at school help students to concentrate on their studies or to participate in class at all. Parents have a greater interest in sending their children to school if they receive a meal there.
LTP is a registered NGO in Uganda, which was founded in 2008. The main focus of LTP is supplying vulnerable communities in Uganda with basic hygienic infrastructure, access to basic education and quality learning. The entire construction process of the facilities is controlled, documented, supervised and evaluated by LTP. The workshops are also organized directly by LTP.
The aim of the four-day training sessions at 4 of the 7 project schools was to strengthen knowledge and skills about menstrual health and hygiene. In addition to learning about the physical changes, participants also learned how to make their own reusable sanitary pads. Boys and men also participated in the workshops, as acceptance and knowledge of the topic is central to reducing prejudice and marginalization of menstruating individuals.
The supplies are intended to last for 1 year and cover 50% of the needs of the 4 project schools. The other 50% will be contributed by parents and schools from the school gardens.
At 4 primary schools, the construction of sanitary facilities is in the final phase. Workshops on the general improvement of the school for teachers and parents were held in the last month.
At 3 schools, well drilling was completed and a workshop on well maintenance for teachers and parents was held. In addition, the construction work for the latrines is almost finished.
The construction of the latrines at the project schools continues to progress and even faster than expected! Most likely, the 12 latrine blocks will be completed already in February.
At Oruro Elementary School, the first well was drilled and the ground dug for the construction of latrines. After that, the construction of wells at three other elementary schools will continue. There, students do not have access to water yet - which is now finally going to change!
All preparations have been completed - now the construction work can start. A construction company has already been contracted and will soon start drilling the first well.
At the 7 project schools in northern Uganda, we are working since August on the lack of water and sanitation facilities in the Otuke district. The approximately 6,000 students and teachers are already very excited about a suitable learning environment.
During our Uganda trip in June 2022, we visited the project schools in Otuke district in northern Uganda with the project partner LTP.