Toilets in schools – increasing learning time for students

United Purpose | Rachel Dixon from United Purpose Malawi, on 05/12/2017 23:11 AEST

For a long time, 1,211 students at Longwe primary school in Phalombe district relied on old, unsafe latrines which were falling apart. This left the students with no option but to use the nearby bushes to relieve themselves, or even go back home to use their family’s toilet. This is a long distance for the majority of the students, and they would miss class so they could use the toilet.

The head master of Longwe primary school, Fostino Gundo, recognised the impact of the lack of sanitation facilities on the students’ health: “Children used to defecate in the bush. As a result, diseases such as diarrhoea were common here at Longwe primary school”.

The lack of sanitation facilities at the school was even worse for girls, who would stay home during their periods because of the lack of toilets. This meant girls of menstrual age would miss up to a quarter of their lessons, all because of a lack of safe and appropriate toilets. 

Recognising the toll the lack of safe sanitation facilities was having on the students, the community, teachers and District Education Manager’s office together approached United Purpose (UP) and requested their support. Through the project, UP is constructing a boys’ and girls’ latrine (the boys’ is currently under construction). UP’s experience shows that community ownership is key to the sustainability and long-term functionality of its projects, and following this approach, requested the community to mobilise local resources such as sand, bricks and quarry stones.

The girls’ latrine has been constructed, which includes a specific ‘menstrual hygiene management’ room for girls to wash, change and discretely and hygienically dispose of their sanitary items. The fruits of this are already apparent, with girls now able to attend school throughout the month. Standard 8 learner Mwaiywawo said “as of now we do attend school even if we are menstruating because we have a latrine with a changing room at school. Now, whenever we have our periods we just go and take care of ourselves in the changing room and then go straight back in class, unlike before when there were no changing rooms”.

“The latrine has improved class participation of learners as they no longer travel back home to use a latrine. It has also improved faecal matter disposal as learners no longer go to the bush to defecate because they can use the latrine” narrated Faston Nyalungwe, sanitation patron at Longwe primary school.