Sanitation in public schools in Nairobi as well as other parts of the country has for a long time been neglected to a point where some schools have faced closure due to the severe health risks posed.
Tom Mboya Primary School in Dandora and Kariobangi Primary School are a case in point. Pupils in these schools consider the rundown toilets as normal. Unaware to many people, many pupils in Nairobi as well as in other counties face the same problem, perhaps even worse.
A rapidly increasing pupil population, especially after the introduction of free public primary education in 2003, has put a strain on sanitation facilities. Kenya has 21,718 primary schools. In Nairobi there are 225 public primary schools and Early Childhood Development Education centres. Some, if not most, of these schools have very poor sanitary facilities.
Children have a right to basic facilities such as clean toilets, safe drinking water, adequate washing areas, clean surroundings and access to health and hygiene education.
To achieve this, hygiene should be emphasised in schools, as well as at home, a task that Sanergy, a social enterprise organisation that provides sanitation in informal settlements, is trying to achieve. The organisation has so far reached out to 94 schools, mostly in Mukuru and Mathare slums, providing better alternatives.
Putting up toilets in slum areas is however a challenge, mostly due to the lack of space and access. Government relations manager at Sanergy Alex Manyasi says they are addressing this challenge by bringing in more applicable methods through its Fresh Life Toilets, which is revolutionising slums.
“We have also provided sanitation training in schools. We have trained 84 teachers in handwashing, how to use and maintain toilets, as well as proper sanitation behaviour. Our work with schools has seen a 20 per cent increase in enrolment in schools where the Fresh Life Toilets are set up,” he says.
According to Manyasi, to improve sanitation in schools, it is essential to first improve sanitation at home. If no proper attention is paid to sanitation at home, then it is highly unlikely that a child will observe proper hygiene at school.
A study reveals that every year 17,000 children die from sanitation-related diseases in Kenya alone. Diarrhoea is a leading cause of death among children under the age of five; claiming about 1.5 million children every year in developing countries. Children affected by diseases caused by poor sanitation often miss classes and eventually lag behind and perform poorly in exams.
Deputy Director of health Jarius Musumba says proper sanitation in schools ensures that no child misses class; it increases their concentration in class and ultimately improves their performance.
The key to proper sanitation, according to Musumba, is having access to clean water and availability of sanitary facilities such as toilets and running water. The main mandate of the office of Public Health is to enforce proper sanitation standards in public areas. The office works with other parties such as Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company to lobby for proper drainage in the county as well as in schools.
Other efforts to provide proper sanitation in schools are being spearheaded by organisations such as WERK and the WASH programme, which work with the institutions to build additional toilets and washing areas. Schools have also introduced health classes and clubs, where students are taught about hygiene, especially the washing of hands and sanitation as a personal responsibility.
As a result pupils are showing more initiative in hygiene programmes in school and some even volunteer to help in tasks such as cleaning toilets, despite there being a cleaner. This has had a considerable impact in combating sanitation-related ailments.