On a recent Wednesday a group of students, both boys and girls, at Changuluwe primary school are carrying brooms and five-litre gallons of water toward the toilets. “We want to clean these beautiful gifts from Join My Village,” Maria Mwale, the sanitation head girl for Changuluwe primary school, tells me.
I’ve never heard anyone as proud of a toilet as Maria, but she explained how important it is to have good facilities at school and the implications of not having them especially for girls’ education. “I may be young but I remember before and after the construction of sanitary facilities here at Changuluwe,” Maria says. “We had sanitary facilities that were not durable and also not good for one’s privacy,” explains the 15-year-old who has studied at Changuluwe primary school for eight years.
Maria tells me that before support from Join My Village the poor condition of the school’s sanitary facilities left students with no choice but to relieve themselves in a nearby bush. Apart from being a health hazard, there was a personal safety issue for girls. “As a result, most of us would go home earlier – thus missing some lessons,” adds Maria.
Emmanuel Macheya, one of the longest serving teachers at Changuluwe primary school, agreed with Maria’s assessment. “With poor sanitary facilities, girls are most affected. Unlike girls, boys won’t mind standing beside a tree and relieve themselves. Naturally, girls are shyer than boys and thus they need good sanitary facilities. This also reduced a competition between boys and girls in class,” observes Emmanuel, who teaches grade eight.
Today, Maria says she won’t stop coming to school because the school has an improved sanitary environment. Maria is part of a team of sanitary prefects whose sole responsibility is to make sure that the school and the students are always tidy. “I am excited to be the head girl for the sanitation team for the whole primary school. I don’t think girls are missing classes anymore due to the sanitary conditions. The facilities are really helping more girls remain in school,” concludes Maria.