“I attentively listen whenever the President makes speeches in the media. That is where I want to see myself in the future. I know the journey is not going to be easy. It starts right here in our school,” says Natani.

Access to Hygiene and Sanitation Helps Girls Stay in School and Dream Big Dreams

Story and Photo by: Yosef Tiruneh, WASH Reports and Communications Coordinator | WorldVision Ethiopia

If there is one thing Ethiopians at the opposite ends of the political spectrum agree on, it is the gender-balanced cabinet and the appointment of the first female president by the administration of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

This news was not limited in the power corridors and the front pages of newspapers. In the remote village of Omo Nada, in Oromia region, some 300 kilometers away from the capital, Addis Ababa, girls like Natani, 14, have also heard and feel inspired by the news. 

“I attentively listen whenever the President makes speeches in the media. That is where I want to see myself in the future. I know the journey is not going to be easy. It starts right here in our school,” says Natani.

Good education and a healthy learning environment that is responsive to the needs of students like Natani is hard to come by in rural villages of Ethiopia. Less than 50 percent of schools provide access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services on their compounds. And, for girls, like Natani, managing menstruation is often a source of worry and frustration.

“My students are active and they aim high," says Netsanet Assefa, 36, a science teacher at the school. "But it is the seemingly smaller things, like having space and items to manage menstruation cycles hygienically that put pressure on the grades and attendance of the girls in my school,” she says.  

In Ethiopia, World Vision stepped into the school to alleviate such challenges so that girls can be well-educated in safe environments and have bright futures.

“World Vision’s support started by drawing our attention to the critical role of listening to the needs of our students, most importantly that of girls by providing us training on School WASH,” said Shiferaw Tadesse, the school principal.

Omo Nada Primary School is among the schools in the district where World Vision has supported the establishment of WASH clubs, constructed latrines and extended pipes to the school to provide water access to the 1,525 students and teaching staff.

“I’m lucky that I have started my menstruation after the WASH club was started and materials, like sanitary pads and water with taps were installed in the Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) room. My elder sister did not have this opportunity. She used to stay at home for at least three days every month to manage the menstruation,” says Natani. The WASH club, in which Natani is a member, provides awareness training to the school community, especially for girls.

“Girls are never told about first time menstruation and when that happens they get scared and don’t talk about it as it remained a taboo. That affects their school performance. But, thanks to World Vision’s support we are [now] adequately trained to advise and guide girls not only about menstruation hygiene but also life goals,” states Netsanet, who is one of the two female teachers coordinating the club.

The school extended the awareness effort to parents through parent-teacher committees. Plans are also being put in place to ensure a continuous supply of sanitary pads and other inputs in the MHM room to ensure sustainability of these efforts even after World Vision leaves the area.

“We want our girls to achieve, to be their best selves and not be hindered by small problems. Who knows the next Prime Minister or President could hail from this school,” says Netsanet, looking at her students.