Sarah Fry – What Does WASH in Schools Have to Do with Building Bridges?

by Sarah Fry, SPLASH WASHplus Project, August 2015.

That’s literally, not figuratively, building bridges. Two weeks ago I would not have been able to even understand that question, but today I have a story to share with you. First of all, hello from Zambia. As the WASHplus activity manager for the USAID funded activity called SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning Achievement through Sanitation and Hygiene), I have been here since early July working with our team to see this activity to its end on September 30th.

The author on the road in Chadiza District
The author on the road in Chadiza District

SPLASH began in early 2012, and since then has built over 3,000 school toilets, drilled, equipped or rehabilitated over 400 water points for schools, provided permanent handwashing and drinking water stations, and worked with teachers, the national government and local government to ensure that good hygiene practices and stronger systems for operating and maintaining school WASH facilities are put in place, and will stay in place. These activities have taken place in Zambia’s Eastern Province.

Before SPLASH started, Chief of Party Justin Lupele and I went on a “Road Show” out to the districts, where we introduced SPLASH to the government officials and local committees and started to build ownership and participation. The last three years have been a whirlwind of activity – construction, training, community mobilizing, monitoring, publicizing, documenting. Justin and I thought that as the project nears its end, it would be good to go on another grand tour to get a solid sense of what has happened, what has changed, and maybe, what does it all mean. The only requirement we set was to not alert any schools that we were coming to visit.

Zambia is a vast, not densely populated country. Visiting schools requires spending a lot of time in vehicles riding on rough and dusty country roads. These distances impressed upon me how much staff and building contractor time and effort it took to reach the schools to carry out SPLASH activities. Bumping along, I had a chance to think and look forward to what we would find. I certainly expected to see positive changes and improvements at SPLASH schools. However, nothing prepared me for the sea of change that unfolded before us as we made our way to about 20 schools, mostly rural, but a few urban ones as well.

A school in Chipata
A school in Chipata

In 2012, we heard many complaints from schools about how communities were misusing their boreholes and denying any responsibility when they broke down. Now, every school has active WASH committee and pupil WASH Club and all are engaged in some form of joint school-community fundraising for maintenance and repair of the borehole. Handwashing after toilet use and before eating was a nearly universal practice by pupils, a habit acquired even if group handwashing hadn’t been inaugurated yet.

A major achievement was the presence of soap at almost all handwashing stations – stealing soap is a thing of the past, we were told, because pupils want and like to wash their hands. Through the WASH Clubs peer education, they feel that the stations and the soap belong to them. Going beyond peer education, some WASH Clubs are visiting local health centers and performing hygiene skits and poems for women gathered for pre-natal and under-five clinics. In addition, Teachers were delighted with drinking water stations close to the classrooms because time away from lessons was reduced.

Possibly the biggest change was the universal acceptance of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) as a necessary and welcome part of the school program. Zambia, like many African countries, has taboos, myths and restrictions around menstruation, which is almost never discussed openly. Facilities and support for menstruating girls in schools is nearly absent, causing girls to stay home and miss weeks of lessons during the school year. Girls at SPLASH schools were thrilled with their beautiful washrooms –shower/toilet structures built to accommodate MHM.

However, no one had anticipated the envy of the boys, who are now demanding their own washrooms to clean up after sports. MHM has entered into the vocabulary and into the culture, to the point where one WASH Committee was holding pad making parties for the girls, but then headed out into the community to distribute them to women in need. The taboos around menstruation seem to have melted away.

While the news from schools is very good– and we will soon be able to quantify what kind of effect SPLASH had on the schools the – we encountered even more good news during this visit, outcomes that I can only call “unexpected consequences” of WASH in schools, and that frankly, I was unprepared for. The big apparent message is that WASH in schools can lift an entire community up and can bring about changes that were previously not possible.

Launching SPLASH with School Led Total Sanitation “triggering” shifted social norms in surrounding communities around open defecation practices to such a degree that we heard of headmen ordering all households to build latrines or pay a fine! Over a thousand household latrines have been built as a result.

In one school receiving a water point, a new classroom block was built where previously there was only a thatched shelter. Teachers’ houses have gone up, and a new water source at another school enabled a clinic to be built nearby.

Classroom before SPLASH in Mambwe District
Classroom before SPLASH in Mambwe District

Every single school stocked soap and toilet paper – a miracle right there – and consequently local shops were seeing a rise in sales of hygiene products. Some schools have a “one child one bottle” policy, leading local businesses to stock up on drinks to satisfy the demand for bottles.

One of the best “unexpected outcome” is the engagement of artisans in building the latrines and washrooms, and who, in the process, have gained marketable skills.

They have found work on road crews (may the work be speeded up!) and other local construction projects and in one case were solicited by a health center next to a school that has decided to build an exact replica of a SPLASH toilet.

New classroom block built after SPLASH provided access to a new water source
New classroom block built after SPLASH provided access to a new water source

Leading the parade of successful new entrepreneurs is the ex-SPLASH artisan who proved so competent that once the latrine construction was done, he was hired to oversee the building of a new bridge. And that’s what WASH in schools and building bridges have in common!

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Small Doable Actions: Simple Steps That People Can Take to Improve WASH

Small doable actions are simple steps that people can take to improve WASH in their communities!

African EduWeek 2014: Expert Interview with Justin Lupele

lupele_justin_2013_200x220 An interview with Dr. Justin Lupele, Chief of Party, WASH Project in Zambia.  He is part of an  expert panel at the upcoming 2014 African EduWeek on “Educating in today’s social and  economic climate: Best approaches for educational challenges.”  This interview first appeared on the African EduWeek 2014 website here.

1)    Please can you give us some background on your organisation and your role? SPLASH is a five-year USAID-funded project that aims to reach 246,000 primary school pupils in four districts of Eastern Province, Zambia (Mambwe, Chipata, Lundazi, and Chadiza). SPLASH is implemented by WASHplus, which is managed by FHI 360 as a prime and CARE as a sub-grantee. The project works within the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training, and Early Education (MESVTEE) and other line ministries such as Ministry of Local Government and Housing (MLGH) and Ministry of Health (MOH). SPLASH’s overall objective is to sustainably improve access to safe water, adequate sanitation, hygiene information and health practices to improve learning environments and educational performance in basic schools.  The overall objective will be achieved by means of the following five key task areas:

  1. Install and rehabilitate improved WASH infrastructure in schools using a service-delivery framework
  2. Improve hygiene behaviors and health of learners and teachers and subsequently their communities
  3. Strengthen local governance and coordination of WASH in Schools through the involvement of multiple stakeholders
  4. Engage those who set policies at the national, provincial, and district levels to support WASH in Schools
  5. Strengthen the capacity of small-scale service providers and the private sector to deliver WASH goods and services on a sustainable basis.

I am the Chief of Party/Project Director.

2)    What education focused projects are you involved in that you are particularly excited about? The project is involved in hygiene education. I am particularly interested in menstrual hygiene management education. Through this programme we are enabling hundreds of girl children that have reached puberty to attend class as we encourage the provision of sanitary towels and washrooms for girls to manage their menses and continue to attend classes.

3)    What in your view are the main challenges in education in Africa? The main challenge of education in Africa is the low investment by most countries. The national budgets on education are very low – in most cases less than 20% of the total budget. Deployment of qualified teachers, often trained at the country’s expense is another challenge. In the efforts of reducing wage bills, trained teachers are not being employed. This results in having schools that are managed by untrained teachers. HIV/AIDS has also contributed to the attrition of teachers.

4)    What surprises you about your work? I am surprised at my work that ministries of education in Africa and other discussions around quality of education do not tackle water and sanitation as one of the factors that contribute to education quality.

5)    You are part of an expert panel on socio-economic issues in the education at African EduWeek.  What will be your message at EduWeek this year? My message will be to urge participants and governments in Africa to look at education quality holistically and to invest in water, sanitation and hygiene education. 6)    What are you most looking forward to at African EduWeek? I am looking forward to learning from others, insights on how to improve learner attendance, especially girl children in rural Africa, and ways of lobbying governments to increase funding to education.

Postcard from Montana

 

sarah fry thumbnailA postcard from “Sustaining the Blue Planet” Conference 2014, Big Sky, Montana

Montana is not a usual spot for international WASH and development folks to congregate.  Usually it’s Dakar or The Hague.  But here we are from Nigeria, China, Laos, India and many U.S. states, to talk about integrating water and WASH literacy into the classrooms of the world.

The WASH in Schools global community set a challenge for itself this year to attend and present at conferences sponsored by the education sector to highlight WASH as a critical element of quality education.  Integration of WASH and Education has special challenges that stem from different visions.  Education wants children to stay in school and learn; WASH wants to prevent diarrheal disease in small children; and WASH in Schools wants to keep schoolchildren healthy.  The key to effective integration of WASH and Education is to meld the two visions into one shared one that everyone can support:  assuring a clean and safe school environment and healthy habits that keep children in school, able to learn and grow into well-educated, healthy and economically secure adults.

Project WET is a pioneer in this, and their annual conference is heavily attended by education professionals.   Honoring the commitment to be present at education events, the WASHplus project (funded by USAID) sent me to this conference to share our experience from the SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning and Achievement  through Sanitation and Hygiene) project that we are implementing in Zambia and to talk about how we are integrating WASH into the Zambian educational system.  Yesterday our talk described how WASH integration is occurring in two streams, by:

1) creating opportunities to learn (OTL) through WASH (improving educational outcomes) and

2) creating opportunities to learn about WASH (improving life skills and forming hygiene habits).

Usually WASH in Schools makes us think of building nice latrines and tippy taps for hand washing.  In fact, we have found that weaving WASH into the education sector is a complex job that presents many opportunities worth seizing.  The education sector identifies nine “OTL”s of which five are influenced by WASH improvements.  An example of opportunities to learn would be student and teacher attendance, which can be affected by the presence or absence of improved, gender segregated toilets and safe drinking water.  More WASH-related obstacles to learning that present opportunities when fixed are lack of places and means for hygienic managing of menstruation and also hand washing, and schoolyards that are unsafe and unsavory due to nearby open defecation practices.

WASH in Schools also creates opportunities for the pupils, teachers and the nearby community to learn about the importance of using latrines, drinking safe water and practicing hygiene, hopefully leading to lifelong good habits.   SPLASH uses SLTS (school-led total sanitation) to help the school community along the path to becoming WASH friendly.  SPLASH also builds WASH into the official teacher in-service training system where the teachers themselves can develop classroom activities that fold WASH themes into history, language, math, science and other subjects.  This is what most of the participants at this conference are actively doing – finding innovative ways to support teachers to teach the next generation of leaders and managers about water conservation, battling invasive species, engineering challenges and using the latest technologies to solve challenges, just as examples.

The setting here in Montana is breathtaking and our hosts are quick to point out the state’s abundant natural resources and its commitment to preserving them.  One participant took the theme “Sustaining the Blue Planet” to a stratospheric level last night…literally!  Astronaut and conservation advocate Richard Arnold shared his stunning photos and moving video clips taken by himself from the International Space Station, showing us the glory and the fragility of our shared blue home, another thing that educators and WASH practitioners can bond over.

Author: Sarah Fry is a Senior Hygiene and School WASH Advisor with the USAID funded WASHplus Project. She is the WASHplus point person for integration of WASH and Education, manages the USAID-funded SPLASH program in Zambia and an urban hygiene improvement program in Benin.  Sarah has been working in WASH since her Peace Corps days in Benin.  She has a MPH from UNC/Chapel Hill.

Let Kids Learn

Bringing WASH to classrooms, turning a cycle of poor health, interrupted learning and gender inequity into a cycle of opportunity.

Poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) lead to poor health. Poor health keeps kids out of school, and when kids miss class, they can’t learn. FHI 360 and CARE, in partnership with USAID and the Ministry of Education in Zambia, are bringing WASH to classrooms, turning a cycle of poor health, interrupted learning and gender inequity into a cycle of opportunity.

cycle-of-opportunity 1

BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LEARNING

Clean water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene require appropriate facilities and an awareness of good practices. SPLASH is a five-year project started in 2011 funded by USAID Zambia to reach more than 240,300 primary school pupils in three districts of the Eastern Province (Chipata, Lundazi, Mambwe and Chadiza). SPLASH aims to improve pupils’ health, learning and performance by increasing their access to safe water and adequate sanitation and improving their hygiene and health practices at school and at home

Through the SPLASH partnership under WASHplus, CARE International supports the construction of boreholes and sanitation facilities, while FHI 360 supports teacher training and curriculum development. Local ministries, nongovernmental organizations and communities take it from there.

CONSTRUCTING FACILITIES

Theresa J.V. Ngoma, District Education Board Secretary, Mambwe

INVOLVING COMMUNITIES

Patricia Mitti Mazonga, Head Teacher, Mambwe

DEVELOPING CURRICULA

Margaret Phiri Mapata, District Resource Center Coordinator, Chipata

PLAYFUL PARTICIPATION FOR LIFELONG HABITS

A solid infrastructure provides a foundation for lifelong healthy habits to take root. Schools form WASH clubs for students and WASH committees for parents and community members.

Manda Esaya E., Teacher, School WASH Coordinator, Lundazi

BEING A MEMBER OF WASH CLUB

WASH clubs and committees engage students and community members through skits, songs, dances, poems and prayer.

Jennifer Jere, WASH Club member, Mambwe

MANAGING MENSTRUAL HYGIENE – EQUITABLE EXPERIENCES FOR GIRLS

Good menstrual hygiene management is critical to keeping girls in school all month long. Equipped with new washrooms for girls, the schools have also taken steps to prevent teasing and ensure a comfortable environment for menstruating students.

Solomon Mwanza, Head Teacher, Lundazi

FROM THE CLASSROOM TO THE COMMUNITY

Small doable actions are simple steps that people can take to improve WASH.

Learn more.