Imagine the excitement of using a flushing toilet at school for the first time. Imagine if something most of us take granted was the thing that made a whole school full of kids comfortable – and safe.
For the students at a small, rural school in Batangas, Philippines, the luxury of being able to go to a clean, private toilet, flush it, and wash their hands with running water had only ever been the stuff of dreams.
“Our students used to have to fetch water from a nearby stream to wash their hands,” explains Jennifer Arellano, a teacher in Batangas.
“It is embarrassing to admit but some parts here in our school used to be dirty and have a foul smell because of our limited water facilities.”
That’s because there also weren’t enough toilet facilities to meet the needs of the number of students, so many students would go to the toilet behind the buildings instead.
“Sometimes I was in urgent need of a toilet but found out there was no water ready in the comfort rooms. So, then I would go at the back of the assembly stage,” says one student.
Though we don’t think about them much, school toilet and handwashing facilities are important for children’s learning in more ways than you might think. Poor hygiene and sanitation makes kids more vulnerable to illness, which in turn results in more days off school.
Not having access to private, safe facilities is often linked to girls dropping out of school, or being taken out of school by their parents, especially once they get their period.
In Batangas school, without functioning toilets and handwashing taps, most students didn’t practice good hygiene.
“There was no water when we wanted to wash our hands. So sometimes I used my drinking water to wash my hands,” explains 12-year-old Mary, a student in grade seven. But since students had to bring their own drinking water from home, not everyone made that decision.
Everything changed when World Vision’s child sponsorship programme partnered with the local community. Batangas school, as well as three other schools in the area, received repairs to their drinking water, toilet and handwashing facilities and new toilet facilities were also built to support the health, safety and education of all children at the schools.
World Vision also trained local community members from the schools as well as health clinics to lead school sanitation and hygiene programmes to teach kids good hygiene practices, which is more important than ever in the time of COVID-19.
“Our school is quite far from the town. We thought we would never receive any assistance because of our distance. But when we heard that World Vision will be helping us, we were ecstatic,” says Jennifer.
“I'm so happy to see our students' hygiene behaviour slowly starting to change.”
With the school’s new electric water pump, students now know that water is always available inside the comfort rooms to flush the toilets and wash their hands – and that there’ll be a cubicle they can use. A group of students has been assigned to monitor the new facilities to keep them clean, and the toilet block that everyone used to avoid has become the most popular place in the school.
“Our comfort room now has flushes, shining floors and water!” smiles Mary.
It’s been a difficult year for all of us. But this year could be the year that everything changes for a girl like Mary.
The first day with running water and proper toilet facilities could become the last time poor sanitation and hygiene makes her sick; the first day she feels safe and comfortable to go to school could be her first step to transforming her world.
Imagine the world of firsts you could create in a child’s life.