Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Inclusive water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools for all boys and girls

By Sovath Ngin and Stina Heikkila

A pre-primary and 6th grade school girls wash their hands at the new facilities.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Kratie Povince, Cambodia, September 2018 - After a long drive on bumpy, dirt roads, it’s break-time when we arrive at Serey Pheap Primary School to inspect its new water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities during a trip we took earlier this year. 


Serey Pheap Primary School is located approximately 25 km away from Krong Kratie. It has six classes from preschool to grade six split between morning and afternoon classroom shifts for its 149 students among which 77 are girls.

We are met by the school principal Mr. Ny Chan Neang, who is well-known for his strong commitment to maintaining a healthy school environment. We immediately spot the yellow and pink building where the new toilet and hand-washing facilities are, it looks clean and well kept. But we soon find out it hasn’t always been this way.

A student in grade 5 came up to us and said, “We used to poop outside because there was no water in the toilet.”

The school principal explained that, before December last year, about 10 per cent of students practiced open defecation, especially those in grades 1 and 2 because they were unable to carry heavy buckets of water from the tube-well located about 20 m away from the latrines. Back then, the school had four old latrines with no gender separation. The latrines were poorly lit and ventilated, inaccessible to children with disabilities, handwashing facilities did not work and there were holes in the wooden doors.

A female student said, “Before, we were so shy to go to the toilets because the boys looked through the holes in the latrine doors to see us. Now we have no more fear.”

With support from UNICEF and its partners BORDA – a non-governmental organization, the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MOEYS) and their provincial departments, the old wooden doors were replaced with solid zinc doors to give students privacy. The latrines have been separated by gender – sanitary pad disposal boxes have been included in cubicles for girls.

The new sanitation facilities have improved the safety and health standards in the school. “2018 is like a turning point for us. Now that we have good latrines with enough water, there are no more students who go to the bush to defecate,” Mr. Ny Chan Neang said.

Director Ny Chan Neang smiles proudly
as his school is now open defecation free.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

As we speak with the students about the new developments we realize many of them do not have latrines at home.

Some of the male students shared their excitement at having the new latrines, “It is the first time in our life we’ve used this kind of urinals, “a fifth-grade boy said, “It is easier to pee in the urinal than in the normal latrine pan we used to have,” said an older boy in the sixth grade.  “We are so happy to have [this latrine] in our school,” said another.

Even a newly constructed toilet can turn out to be a dirty and smelly one if left without regular cleaning and maintenance. To prevent this from happening, the school has a regular schedule for cleaning the toilets every day, and students take part in this to build their sense of ownership of the facilities and responsibility. A female student told us, “We don’t mind cleaning the toilet because we also poop in it!”

A school boy cleaning the urinals during extracurricular activity.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Before the renovation, the only source of water at the school was a tube well because they didn’t have a rainwater harvesting system. The school spent 6.25 USD per week on water – a substantial cost to it small budget.

To make sure all children in the school had access to safe drinking water, five ceramic filters were also installed. “We are happy that we have the filters because we don’t need to bring drinking water from home anymore.” a student said.

A pre-primary school girl is getting the drinking water from the filter.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

According to school records, several students missed two days or more of school due to diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. The school principal noted that this may have been because, before handwashing facilities were installed, 90 per cent of the students didn’t wash their hands after using the toilet or before eating. He reckoned the other 10 per cent who may have washed their hands did not use soap.

The new handwashing facilities have made a positive impact on students’ health. Ms. Ouk Davy, a fourth-grade teacher, said: “Now all the students, big or small, wash their hands willingly by themselves and we [now] rarely see cases of diarrhea.”

When it comes to inclusive hand-washing and toilet facilities, the needs of those with limited mobility have been considered. The rehabilitated latrines have an accessible ramp to the latrine specifically designed with a grab rail for students with disabilities. The cubicles are large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The new facilities are also well-lit, catering for students with visual impairments.

Unfortunately, most children with disabilities in Cambodia do not go to school, but we met So Som (10 years old), who now attends Serey Pheap Primary School.

So Som, a 1st grade who attends Serey Pheap primary school.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

He started the first grade four years after his peers because he was unable to walk unaided. Now So Som walks and rides his bicycle to school.

UNICEF is working with government ministries in Cambodia, and NGOs working with children with disabilities, to help all children including those with disabilities to go to school. To achieve this, social and cultural barriers to education must be addressed, including people’s perception of persons with disabilities. Providing access to WASH for every child is a key part of supporting this work.

UNICEF supports the new government department for special education and teacher training. Inclusive education techniques have been shared with school directors and teachers who now reach out to their communities, encouraging parents of children with disabilities to enroll them in school.   

By providing access to WASH facilities in schools for all boys and girls, UNICEF and its partners ensure more children can go to school in a safe, clean and healthy environment.

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