Schools for Africa - Stories from the field
Clean water makes school children’s lives easier
Jalo Primary School, home to more than 2,100 students, is located in Nkhotakota district, in northern Malawi. In summer, the school becomes uncomfortable due to the hot air that blows from nearby Lake Malawi; and despite the school’s proximity to the lake, the school has had water problems since it was established in 1978.
Wezzi, 12, who is now in the last year at Jalo, recalls life before they had solar-powered water pumps. “We used to get water from the village borehole, about a kilometre away,” she says, looking weary at the memory of those earlier times. “On bad days, community members would refuse us water or make us wait in long queues, which made us miss classes.”
Wezzi has spent the last three years in Jalo village. Dressed in her blue uniform, she explains that although her school is a beneficiary of the national school feeding programme, without easily accessible water it was difficult to maintain the programme as well as good hygiene around the kitchen and eating area, school surroundings, and of course at the school toilets. “Firewood and labour were readily available, but we were not able to eat porridge daily due to the lack of water,” she recalls.
Wezzi’s head teacher, Mr. Mwale, adds that the rainy season made things worse, which was when the available water from unprotected sources made children sick. “Children would skip classes because of water-related illnesses,” he tells us, adding that “In summer the community borehole would run dry and children suffered with no water at the school.”
All this changed when UNICEF constructed a solar-powered reticulated water system as part of the organization’s Living Schools Project. The system has two taps that supply the school with safe and chlorinated water and another two taps that supply water to teachers’ houses and the surrounding community. “Now,” says Wezzi, “our classrooms are clean; we sweep them every morning and mop them twice a week. And we clean the toilets very frequently because of all the water that is available. The cooking area and utensils are also kept very clean. I love coming to school now!”
"I have been here for seven years and I was ready to leave because of lack of water. Now I like working in this community. Water for cooking and laundry is readily available. I have even started a vegetable garden at home, which is bringing extra income into my family."
Teacher’s lives have also greatly improved. Getting ready for classes in the morning used to include having to queue in long lines at the boreholes. Now that water is readily available, however, teachers no longer scramble for water with the rest of the community. “I have been here for seven years and I was ready to leave because of lack of water,” declares Mr. Nyondo, deputy head teacher at Jalo. “Now I like working in this community. Water for cooking and laundry is readily available. I have even stated a vegetable garden at home, which is bringing extra income into my family.”
Today, the school surroundings are bright and green with flowers and grass. “We have also established a vegetable garden at the school to supplement the diet for the feeding programme,” adds Mr. Nyondo. “The school diet is more diverse now, which has attracted new learners and reduced absenteeism.”
In addition to providing water, the solar power has also been used to light classrooms for the first time. As a result, last year students used the lights to study for their end of primary school examinations during the evening and early morning hours, which no doubt contributed to 22 students from the school being selected to high-ranking secondary schools. And this year even more students have already started using the classrooms for morning and evening studies.
The UNICEF Living Schools project aims to increase access to quality basic education for Malawian children by making schools more resilient to climate change, and to enhance the quality of education with increasingly resilient teachers, students, and communities.