"Above all, my dignity has been restored through this tank."
Jemimah Waithera, 18 years old candidate 2016
Ikalaasa Secondary school students at their tank
The newly refurbished boys dormitory
The newly completed girls washrooms
The new 2030 Agenda has water and sanitation at its core, with a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water and sanitation and clear linkages to goals relating to health, food security, climate change, resiliency to disasters and ecosystems, among many others. Reaching the ambitious objectives of the 2030 Agenda demands that we address universal access to drinking water and sanitation along with issues of quality and supply, in tandem with improved water management to protect ecosystems and build resiliency. Target number 6b specifically seeks to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, PAYING SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE NEEDS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS AND THOSE IN VULNERABLE SITUATIONS.
It is in this regard that last year, at the request of Mbukilye Ngukilye Self-help Group, Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) with funding from Just a drop facilitated the construction of a 90M3 school roof catch water tank at Ikalaasa Secondary school – A mixed day and boarding public high school located at a very marginalized location in Machakos county, Kenya. This was after ASDF staff heard first-hand the plight that the students went through in the school with regard to water, the most basic of human needs.
Jemimah Waithera, who was in form 3 and 17 yrs at the time dropped the bombshell at the beginning of our interview: “Water is strictly rationed in our school with each student getting only five liters of water a day for both washing and bathing!” After the opener, she paused and gazed at the ceiling above as if to give us time to digest what we just heard! With a total school population of 310 students, with 150 or 48% of them being girls, one can only imagine how strained sanitation was under such circumstances! Only 110 or 35.4% of the total population are boarders. Jemimah carried on: “While it may not be such a big deal for the boys, for us girls it is torture. For a teenage girl, five liters of water is too little for all our water needs in one day considering that we need to wash our clothes regularly and take shower at least twice. Life becomes unbearable when we are on our menses because then, we have take shower at least twice a day to keep our clothes clean. This is not possible on a five liter schedule”
One can only imagine the devastating effect such life would have for the teenage students on both academic performance and health. Having been a student in the school for 3 years and facing the same challenge each year is a severe punishment if not a traumatizing experience as Jemimah explains: “I remember missing class for three straight days when I was in Form two. I was on my menses and there was no water. I could hardly concentrate as I felt very uncomfortable. I would go to class in the morning and be back at the dormitory by 11am or latest 2pm. I was feeling uncomfortable because there wasn’t enough water to bathe. All this time, the rest were in class learning and there I was wishing I would stop menstruating and join them. The general hygiene situation was so bad that I would borrow used water from friends who had already washed their clothes to wash mine. This meant wearing unclean clothes and it really made me feel unclean. How could I concentrate in class let alone engage in sports under such circumstances? Cases of amoeba infection among students were rampant. Drinking water colour was either green or black and that required sieving it with an handkerchief before drinking. As a result most of my friends transferred to schools with better access to clean and adequate water”
At this point, Mr. Johnstone Makau Mulwa, the school deputy principal since 2007 joins in the conversation: “We used to get water pumped into the school from River Athi which is a long distance from our school by TANATHI water services. This was not very reliable as the pump constantly broke down due to mechanical problems thus forcing us to buy water from vendors, a very costly affair. We would buy two six thousand litre boozers in a week each costing KES 9,000 totaling to KES 18,000 spent every single week. Annually, the school spend KES 648,000 on water alone! Inevitably, it was the parents who bore the brunt of this burden as the money was recovered from school fees. This was quite tasking for most of the parents who come from humble backgrounds. The impact was mass transfers as the parents found it unbearable” he explains.
Things however, took a turn for the better after the construction of the school water tank and life changed significantly. A year later when ASDF visited, Jemimah, who is now 18 and a form four candidate had this to say: “To me this is a fulfilled dream. I am very happy to see water flowing from this tank. It has had a great impact among us students ranging from improved hygiene both in the school compound and amongst ourselves to improved grades. As a candidate waiting to sit for my final exams this year, I am relaxed and sure that I will perform well because I have all the time to study and revise. I no longer miss my classes when in my menses. “Above all, my dignity has been restored through this tank,”
Mr. Makau Mulwa says that water rationing is a thing of the past and that students are now getting full access to clean water any time. He says that this has boosted their morale and made life in school more bearable. In a jovial gesture, he offers to take us on a tour of the school compound before concluding our visit to see for ourselves the impact the tank has had. From the savings on water, the school now boasts of a newly renovated boys’ dormitory complete with new washrooms. The girls have also got a new washroom block. These development projects are slowly helping it regain its lost glory and they expect enrollment to start going up again. “We are really appreciative for the support of this tank, a lot has really changed. We have enough water for use at the school. No delays in the school program especially in attending classes and student’s performance has gone up for the past one year now.
“Having a tank in this school is what I looked forward to in many years but my efforts even to our government fell on deaf ears until ASDF through just a drop fulfilled it, I have no words to thank you." Concludes Johnstone as we part.
“To me this is a fulfilled dream. Above all, my dignity has been restored through this tank.”
Jemimah Waithera, student.