At 14, Mercy Kamanga dropped out of school at Standard eight in St Paul’s Primary School in Mzimba, Malawi, due to a lack of suitable sanitation facilities.
“The toilets at our school were very few, small, dilapidated and didn’t have doors; only a piece of cloth covered the entrance. Our male colleagues often rushed to nearby bushes to help themselves. It was not easy for us the girls,” recalled Mercy.
It was a worse situation for girls who were in their menstrual period, and like Mercy, some other adolescent girls also dropped out of school. Others stayed away during their menstrual periods.
“It was a nightmare. After using the toilet, we were supposed to wash our hands and clean ourselves properly, but that was a big challenge. We didn’t have the washing facilities and we ended up being humiliated in class. We just had to go home,” Mercy said.
The headteacher of the school, Mr. Mwandira, confirmed Mercy’s heart-breaking experience. “We didn’t have enough toilets and this affected the learners, especially the girls.”
St Paul’s was not the only school which lacked suitable sanitation facilities. There were many others with similar challenges in Mzimba, resulting in the rampant outbreak of waterborne diseases in the area.
But the situation has now changed for the better, thanks to the intervention of the African Development Bank and its partners. St Paul’s is one of the beneficiaries of 18 newly constructed improved latrines under the $22.85 million Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project in northern Malawi.
“Our enrolment has increased from around 700 learners to 900 learners with the coming of the improved toilets. It is good to note that around 60% of the learners are girls,” said Mwandira.
Other beneficiaries of the latrines programme were Mzimba LEA, Kaphuta Primary School and the district market. The improved latrines with dual seaters, are equipped with hand washing facilities to improve sanitation in the schools and in the market.
The project was jointly financed by the African Development Bank, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development, and the Malawi Government through the Northern Region Water Board.
It had three components: water infrastructure development, water resource management, and sanitation and hygiene. The sanitation and hygiene component cost $450,000 and entailed the rehabilitation of sludge ponds near the Mzimba District Hospital.
The Director of Infrastructure Development at Northern Region Water Board, Catherine Mbewe-Mwafulirwa said the Board is working in partnership with the communities to ensure that no one is left behind in the provision of potable water and sanitation for all.
The intervention has so far helped to reduce water-related diseases from around 35% to 6%, according to statistics from the Mzimba District Health Office.
For Mercy, who is now 16 and has returned to St Paul’s, there is renewed joy in learning, following the erection of the latrines at the school.
“It’s safer and better now with the improved toilets. You don’t have to worry about issues of hygiene. It’s like you are home,” she says with a smile.
Toilets in schools matter.