School is meant to help children and youths succeed and thrive. However, many Tanzanian students are fighting to stay healthy because it is difficult for their schools to provide acceptable levels of water, sanitation, and hygiene. In 2010, UNICEF, SNV, and WaterAid conducted a SWASH (School Water Sanitation and Hygiene) mapping survey in 2,697 schools located in 16 districts in Tanzania. As the statistics below indicate, the survey showed that the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene in pre-, primary and secondary schools was lamentable. The situation especially results in reduced cognitive function and learning and a high number of absences due to WASH-related diseases and poor menstrual hygiene management. Issues, such as poor sanitation, a lack of doors on latrines, and a lack of access to menstrual products, lead to girls being denied an equal opportunity to succeed academically compared to their male peers.
Guidelines for Successful School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (SWASH)
To address these barriers to educational success, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology created a National Guideline for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Tanzania Schools in 2016 to implement improvements that would lead to efficient and adequate provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene in primary and secondary schools. Ensuring that students and teachers are educated about WASH and provided with proper WASH facilities that meet the defined guidelines leads to increased learning, attendance, and overall success of students.
Intervention and Assessment
A crucial first step towards changing SWASH is planning the appropriate interventions after conducting an assessment of the improvements needed at a school to provide adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities and thus guarantee a safe environment for learning. Assessments and intervention steps enable administrators, government partners, and other stakeholders to see a detailed outline of what the successful development of the facilities could look like. The development of such a SWASH plan involves analyzing the current challenges and creating a timeline for targeting the areas that specifically need improvement.
Education around Hygiene and Sanitation
Constructive and sustainable interventions need to include a strong commitment to effective hygiene education to promote healthy behaviors and proper use of WASH facilities. This helps ensure that facilities are used correctly to maintain cleanliness and promote longevity. Just having a WASH facility has little impact on health outcomes unless the students, faculty, and surrounding community are educated about proper hygiene and sanitation. For younger children, it is helpful to educate them with games and stories, while keeping the information simple for them to understand. Older children will be able to have more complex and in-depth discussions about the importance of good hygiene practices. It is also important that teachers and community members help demonstrate the correct way to use facilities and encourage regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure the longevity and safety of facilities. If WASH facilities are not used properly, they can become a breeding ground for disease and pose severe safety hazards.
One way Maji Safi Group ensures sustainability in our SWASH programs is through organizing teachers and students to launch a School Health Club to lead their school towards healthier environments and habits. Members of the club maintain and clean the WASH equipment, replenish WASH supplies, and continue to teach future students about important health education. Through such peer-to-peer teaching, students become empowered as young leaders in their schools and community.
Hygiene Practices at Home are Equally Important as at School
Encouraging proper sanitary and hygienic behaviors for students at school is a big step for improving student health, but an enabling environment for practicing healthy habits at home must be established as well. This helps ensure that the positive effects on student health are protected in both their school and home life. Effective SWASH projects make sure that the schools, teachers, and students engage with the community to ensure that a ripple of change makes it into the homes. It has been found that parents are likely to embrace proper WASH practices that children bring home from school, and thus adopt them in their homes.
An important aspect of holistic WASH intervention is getting the community involved in positive changes. This encourages the long-term use and support of SWASH facilities and also maximizes the overall health benefits realized by the community. It is always easier to make lifestyle changes when those surrounding you are also making those changes; therefore, community involvement catalyzes the interventions being made at schools. Getting the community actively involved can be accomplished in many ways, including meetings and events that give students the voice to lead their community in a healthier direction.
Requirements for a proper SWASH facilities include:
- Adequate water supply from a protected water source that provides safe drinking water and water for personal and environmental cleaning.
- Latrines and urinals that have washable floors and pits (or septic tanks) that ensure safely stored waste. Schools must have separate latrine blocks for boys and girls to ensure privacy and the necessities for girls to continue to attend schools during menstruation.
- One hand-washing facility for every 100 pupils with clean water and soap in an accessible location for all (including at latrines).
- Proper disposal of waste on a daily basis in a safe trash pit or incinerator and proper drainage for wastewater.
- Proper maintenance of facilities and a high level of cleanliness at the school and in the surrounding areas. There should be a regular checklist that ensures that facilities are maintained, restocked, and repaired as needed.
Maji Safi Group will continue to develop programs that provide WASH education and instill proper WASH practices in schools and communities. By preventing common and preventable diseases, we can help transform rural Tanzania. We walk alongside communities as they make behavioral changes and obtain WASH infrastructure, and we provide factual health education that catalyzes healthy habits among our participants.
MSG has always put extra focus on engaging with youths, so that they can bring change for generations to come. Through our School Health Clubs, we are committed to improving SWASH conditions and breaking the silence surrounding menstruation, so girls are not denied the necessities they need to safely stay in school during their cycle.
If we commit to assessing, educating, and implementing sustainable SWASH programs, we can positively impact the future of Tanzanians!