THE United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that nearly 1000 children die each day due to preventable water and sanitation related diarrhoea disease.
Today as the world marks World Toilet Day, UNDP further estimates that 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines around the world with 892 million people practicing open defecation.
The United Nations says people who live without safely managed sanitation tend to face multiple forms of discrimination based on factors such as gender, race, religion, caste, and economic status.
“A toilet is not just a toilet. It’s a life-saver, dignity protector and opportunity maker” says UNDP explaining Sustainable Development Goal 6, which deals with clean water and sanitation. According to UNICEF, it is estimated that Tanzania spends 70 per cent of its health budget on preventable sanitation related diseases as the majority of the population does not have access to improved sanitation.
“Without adequate sanitation facilities, homes, schools and health centres become breeding grounds for diseases that kill children and threaten their ability to grow,” says Unicef.
The UN says lack of adequate sanitation facilities further heightens inequities and uneven opportunities for development. As part of its vision 2025, the government of Tanzania has pledged to increase access to improved sanitation to 95 per cent by 2025 and improve sanitation facilities at 85 per cent in rural areas.
As of 2015 only 24 per cent of the population had access to at least basic sanitation. Eleanor Foundation (EF) a Non-Governmental Organisation has been partnering with local governments of Chato and Biharamulo districts to ensure that the government achieves this goal.
EF was established in Guernsey, UK in August 2012 following the tragic death of Eleanor Carey at the age of 22 in December 2011 whilst cycling in London.
Eleanor had been studying International Development at London Metropolitan University where she believed strongly on the importance of sustainable development and had a particular interest in water, sanitation and hygiene issues. The foundation was therefore established by her family and friends with a view to address the issues that were of such importance to her.
Since the beginning of 2014, the Foundation has been working in Chato and Biharamulo districts facilitating WASH projects in the area. In 2016, Eleanor Foundation Tanzania was established and is a licensed NGO (number 00054) based in Biharamulo.
EFT is responsible for all activities and implementation of EF projects in Tanzania. EF founder, Allister Carey says the foundation believes in working in partnership with individuals and communities so as to create the opportunities to bring about positive change to peoples’ lives.
“Our approach has always been to listen to local community leaders and district government officials, to learn about their particular needs and to agree on a plan of action. We always work in partnership with communities and district government and we greatly appreciate the level of cooperation and partnership that has been established over the last few years,” says Carey.
He adds that EF has been able to construct new toilets in ten schools – both primary and secondary – in Chato and Biharamulo districts and “we are delighted to be able to announce that we are about to commence the construction of toilets at Kasenga Primary School in Chato District.”
Carey says it is the Foundation’s intention to continue to improve sanitation at schools in Chato and Biharamulo districts. He further says that the Foundation has seen for itself the positive impact that better toilets bring. There is less illness and increased school attendance leading to better educational outcomes.
In particular, girls benefit from increased privacy and security especially during times of menstruation. An average enrolment for primary schools in Chato and Biharamulo is 1500 students for Primary and 500 students for secondary schools.
This is to say that EFT’s school toilet programme has been able to directly impact an average of 7500 primary school students and 2000 secondary school students annually in the two districts. Given the number of visits EF has made for the past five years in different schools in the two districts, two issues kept repeating themselves, toilets and classrooms.
EFT Project Manager Godfrey Gahanga says the foundation chose to engage itself with school toilets for two main reasons: one, “our activities are WASH related, but also the most compelling one was the state of those toilets, the smell emanating from them was unbearable for students and most of them were filled to the brim with buildings falling apart.”
According to Chato District Development Officer, Vicent Bushaija the state of those toilets was already having a direct negative impact on the achievements gained by school enrolments, especially girls to whom going to toilet at school meant smelling bad, trading with their privacy either by going to a toilet which has no door or in the worst case common scenario a bush nearby.
The greatest impact was also felt by girls who reached puberty and needed a private changing room for sanitary towels which under the circumstances could not even be considered, pushing girls to the only available option of staying at home during menstruation period.
“Toilets built by Eleanor Foundation have a special room to be used by girls during menstruation, this has made school environment friendly to girls on monthly menstrual periods.” Says Bushaija.
He adds that EF has been the biggest contributor in the district’s development in a number of areas but as the world marks World Toilet Day, the district government believes the Foundation has done a commendable job in building school toilets and the government expects to get more support as the need is still very high.
Talking on some of the impact the newly built toilets have had on schools so far, Bushaija said they have helped to save time for students. He says with fewer toilet holes at a school it means students have to queue for a long time during breaks to be able to use the toilet, something which ends up consuming studying time.
On health he says a survey to health centres near the schools with new toilets shows that a number of reported cases of illnesses from those schools have significantly dropped.
On his part Rubondo Secondary School Head Master Mr Emmanuel Puluka told Daily News that the question of girls missing classes at least five days a month due to lack of changing rooms at school impacted heavily on their performance, and therefore even those girls with the determination to continue with schooling are forced to go back home, because they could not be competitive enough to amass pass grades to grant them an opportunity to continue with further education.
“We are very thankful to Eleanor Foundation for building toilets at our school, we are no longer suffering in that area, but we are also very thankful that the toilets come with a changing room for girls during menstruation,” he says.
Mr Puluka adds that the school now realises how important the changing room is to girls whom before the construction of new toilets suffered a lot during menstruation. He says he is also thankful that the toilets built are connected with water of which was also a big challenge at the school.
According to Mr Puluka students had to fetch water from a nearby water source and in case of a break down they had to walk 45 minutes to the lake, something which caused them to miss at least two classes every morning.
Neema Samson (16) a form one female student at Rubondo Secondary School says she’s happy that the school toilets have a special changing room and running water making her life and that of her fellow students at school friendly and bearable.
On his part the Biharamulo District Health Officer Mr Said Khamis says schools in his district are still in great need of toilets despite the fact that Eleanor Foundation school toilet project in the district has significantly reduced that need.
“Most schools in Biharamulo have not reached the recommended ratio of school toilets to the number of students we still need Eleanor Foundation’s support in this area.” He says.
EF has also made considerable progress in improving access to water within Chato and Biharamulo and this process will continue to be developed going forward. According to the Founder, the Foundation has completed around 100 shallow wells benefitting in excess of 10,000 households.
“We are also planning to develop more shallow wells within communities and will continue to promote effective hand washing within schools and the home environment,” says Carey.
EFT is also funding a building work to complete a maternity ward at Mutundu Dispensary in Chato and is funding the rebuilding of four classrooms at Rusabya Primary School in Biharamulo District, following a severe storm damage at the end of 2019.”