Improving Access to Safe Learning Environment for Children, particularly girls in Zanzibar

Monday 1 November 2021

 Growing up in a clean and safe environment is the right of every child. Access to clean water, basic toilets, and good hygiene practices not only keep children healthy but also give them a good start in life. Despite the government efforts to ensure the safety of children even in the current COVID-19 era by raising awareness on the importance of hand hygiene, thousands of school-going children in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar still do not have access to hand washing facilities. Children with disabilities are undoubtedly the most vulnerable and perhaps the most affected.

In order to support the government of Zanzibar to deal with these challenges, Save the Children with FCDO fundingthrough KPMG is implementing a 9 months Girls Education project (July 2021-March 2022) which aims to increase access to safe school learning environments, particularly for primary school girls including students with disabilities (SWD) through improved school hygiene and sanitation, protection of girls and boys from violence and increased dialogue on the disbursement of funds.

According to Education Project Manager at Save the Children in Zanzibar, Umwizerwa Solange, by the end of the project, school hygiene and sanitation would have improved in the 28 selected primary schools within the four districts of Unguja and Pemba. 

“We want to also see children protected, both boys, girls and those with disabilities and we have initiated an awareness campaign on gender-based violence against children,” she notes, adding that through the project, Save the Children would want to see the wider community involved in facilitating safe, quality and equal education for all children. 

She says that in the 28 selected schools (which are basically those with the highest needs), Save the Children will be providing water facilities to ensure that children have access to clean water whenever they are in the school environment. 

“Our plan is to distribute 5000litres water tanks to all these schools. As a result, we would be expecting children to have access to clean water to protect them from diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation,” she says. 

However, while Save the Children aims to improve the learning environment for all children in these schools, this may not be successful if the administrators, especially in schools, lack the proper understanding of caring for the environment and ensuring children are safe at all times. 

The community also needs to be aware to enable children to be safe from home and in school. To achieve this, Save the Children is training people including teachers who are targeted to disseminate to others the knowledge about sanitation and water resource management. 

“We have started training a group of people who will also be trainers of teachers in schools and other community members on how to keep the school environment clean as well as provide students with clean water and sanitation,” notes Solange. 

“They will advise schools on the proper use of water tanks and also how to treat water for use by children and even other family members.” 

In schools, girls suffer during their menstrual cycle due to lack of safe water and modern toilets for self-care, causing many to drop out of school.

“We want to also see girls staying in school enjoying with other fellow students as they are always faced with different challenges that end up jeopardizing their learning trajectory,” says Solange. 

“They normally get absent for about five days every month. You can imagine how many days they miss classes as compared to their male counterparts”. Save the Children will be providing them with sanitary kits to ensure they remain in classes, and in addition to construct modern toilets in six out of the 28 selected schools for girls, with facilities that cater for their needs as well as for the needs of children with disabilities. 

“In this project we are targeting everyone in the community from parents, children, teachers and government as well as other stakeholders. We target at least 65, 000 people where 22,000 will benefit directly and 43,000 indirectly. 

ToT speaks about the training 

The coordinator of the Swash program from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Makame Omar Choum says "We are going on with training for ToT who will then train their fellow teachers in schools in our two districts, Unguja and North-A, where 14 primary schools, 7 from each district will be reached," he says.  The training covers how they can access water in schools, how to store it, and how they can help children to maintain good health. The aim is to find ways on how to improve the school environment for better learning.

The local government leaders and school management are capacitated in School Wash and Hygiene management as well as on how to build and manage modern toilet systems for children. This will in turn help students realize the importance of maintaining clean environment as well as their own hygiene including that of handwashing. 

"We want to change the behaviors of students from early stages in primary school so that when they go to their homes or elsewhere they can adhere to hygiene principles and be change agents." He says that if children have clean environment, they will reduce absenteeism and be able to love the school and its environment. 

"In fact, as the Ministry of Education we are very grateful to Save the Children for coming up with this project, because we know there are many challenges in schools including lack of water services and even the existing water is not very safe for students." 

He believes that these trainers will help enlighten the community as well, "so we believe the trainers will help transforming the communities to focus on hygiene and as a result, we will be able to protect our children from diseases like cholera". 

On the other hand, Mwana Omar Bakari, from the Integrated Education and Life Skills Unit at the Ministry of Education says these SWASH programs were going to help children with special needs so that they can be safe and learn without other environmental challenges. 

“Having a good and clean environment for these students will give them a lot of motivation to attend school and curb drop outs. If the environment is good, the students themselves will want to go to school,” he says. 

"After this training I have planned to immediately start disseminating to the other people in the community and schools as it is a must for them to know that all children are equal and they deserve a better learning environment." 

She says since she comes from the Inclusive Education and Life Skills unit, they often raise awareness to the public, so the training is provided to the right people who will automatically go and deliver it where it belongs. 

“Our unit is facing a major challenge of girls who are suffering from poor hygiene. Many do not go to school because of unfriendly infrastructure so they continue to lag behind,” she explains.