In Kayunga and Luuka districts in Uganda, authorities have adopted school latrine block designs that were introduced through the USAID Uganda Sanitation for Health Activity (USHA). These designs will be used in future construction of toilets for primary schools. The improved latrines feature five stances, more spacious rooms, adaptations for disabled children, and group handwashing facilities that allow several children to wash their hands immediately after using the toilet.
Unlike existing toilets in many schools, this model also has menstrual health and hygiene management facilities. This includes a changing room for girls when in menstruation, a bathroom with water always available, and three buckets (for bathing, water storage, and disposal of used pads). An incinerator for disposal of used pads is also part of the package. The menstrual management facilities are important given that figures across Uganda show that during each 28-day cycle, one in ten girls in primary school is absent from class due to their menstrual period. Each of these absences averages between four and five days. Absenteeism contributes to 23 percent of girls between the ages of 12-18 dropping out of school altogether.
Yahaya Makinabu, the Luuka District Water Officer says: “As a district, this shall be the yardstick for future construction of new latrines in schools. We are going to change our school latrine designs to reflect this.”
According to the authorities in these districts, this toilet design has proved to be versatile. In schools where the new design has been implemented, absenteeism among girls has decreased. “The facilities in the target schools are impacting the learning environment. If schools do not have proper sanitation facilities, then there will be absenteeism due to ill health,” notes Darius Kaggwa, Principal Assistant Secretary for the Kayunga District.
In Kayunga District, four primary schools have standard latrines in place, three of which feature the new design. Plans are in place to scale up the scheme to more schools as the programme enters the second phase of implementation.
One of the schools that benefited from such facilities is the Kangulumira Church of Uganda Primary School. The school’s head girl, Margaret Nantambi, noted that the new facilities are important for girls who continue to suffer indignity and taunts from boys during menstruation. She says the new facilities have made it possible for girls to attend school without having to worry. “Before, it used to be difficult during menstrual time. The old latrines had small rooms and it would be difficult to change into fresh clothes in those small rooms. In the end, whenever we got periods, it was better to stay home, even when you would have preferred to be in school,” observes Nantambi.
Agnes Mutonyi, the senior teacher at the school, agrees. She says the facilities have been a game changer for the girls. Teachers at the school have also started seeing a noticeable improvement in grades with girls now being able to attend classes more consistently. “With these facilities, girls do not have to stay home and miss lessons. When their periods come, it is easy to go to the facility and clean up. They can use the resting room that has a fresh uniform in case their uniforms are soiled and they continue with lessons normally.”
In addition to the new toilet facilities that address the sanitation and hygiene challenges of girls during menstruation, pupils at the beneficiary primary schools have also been taught to make reusable sanitary pads. WASH management committees have been set up or revived in the schools to ensure proper operation and maintenance of the facilities.
By Ernest Jjingo, journalist with The Observer