By Wanda Obando / Olga Moraga.- “Last year I preferred not to drink water even if it was really hot because we didn’t have toilets where you could urinate….” explains 12-year-old Luvianka Deyanira Brenes Salamanca, who is a sixth-grade primary school student at the “Monseñor Schaefler” School in the Pancasán neighbourhood of Bluefields in Nicaragua’s South Atlantic Autonomous Region.
“I used to bring a bottle of water to wash my hands after playing because we didn’t have water in the school,” she recalls. “Sometimes when it was our turn to clean the school and there wasn’t any water in the tank, we had to bring water in a bucket from a house down there. Can you imagine what it’s like climbing those stairs with a bucket of water on your head? I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Without even going into the health implications, the lack of access to drinking water and sanitation in schools has direct implications for the children’s school attendance and permanence, their capacity to learn, and school retention and promotion, as it limits their performance and full development. This highlights the importance of access to water and sanitation in schools and how it directly influences the quality of education.
“The truth is that the latrines that were here before stank and were broken,” Luvianka explains with a look of displeasure as she remembers what the old row of school latrines was like. “Quite honestly they were really horrible. The saddest thing was when it was our turn to clean them, because even though I didn’t use them, the smallest kids did. And as we all participate in the cleaning here, we had to clean all the filth they left outside the bowl or behind the latrines… yuck!” And she wrinkles her nose with a slight smile.
Luvianka’s school has 328 students (157 girls and 171 boys) and is one of the 26 schools covered by the programme “Restoring the Right to Water and Sanitation with a Climate Change Adaptation Approach”, which is part of a global alliance between the Unilever Foundation and UNICEF that started in 2012. The programme’s aim is to improve the quality of life through the provision of hygiene, sanitation, access to potable water, basic nutrition and improved self-esteem in the municipalities of Mosonte, Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields, which are mainly inhabited by indigenous and Afro-descendant populations.
Luvianka’s face takes on a happier look as she says “…but thank God things have changed. Now we have these toilets that are really nice and clean.”
At the beginning of the school year the teachers ask each student to bring a roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap, which they are given whenever they need to use them. “There’s never usually a shortage of toilet paper,” Luvianka explains, “but sometimes there isn’t any soap.”
With the investments made, access to water in the schools has increased from 37.9% to 58.6% in the municipality of Mosonte; from 42% to 48.4% in Puerto Cabezas, and from 37% to 40.6% in Bluefields; while access to sanitation has risen from 48.3% to 69% in Mosonte; from 55% to 61.4% in Puerto Cabezas; and from 38% to 41.6% in Bluefields. A total of 3,209 (55%) of the students in 19 schools covered by the programme have improved their hygiene habits.
At the end of the first year of the WASH programme in the schools (2013), UNICEF Nicaragua ensured that 3,145 girls and 3,044 boys (a total of 6,189 children) attending 26 schools in three municipalities have access to water and sanitation through new or restored systems that conform to quality standards, employing an approach based on climate change adaptation, equity and inclusion.