VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
In Turkana, water quenches children’s thirst for knowledge
April 26, 2012 by The IRC
|James Lachule of the IRC’s water and sanitation team speaks to a class at the Natagilae Primary School about the importance of hand washing. Photo: Kate Heitz/IRC|
This post comes from Kate Heitz, the International Rescue Committee's environmental health intern in Lodwar, Kenya.
NATAGILAE, Kenya - When my IRC colleagues and I drove up, a bright new Kenyan flag was flapping in the hot dusty wind and John Khamala, an education veteran of 22 years and head teacher of Natagilae Primary School, was walking briskly to our truck to greet us. Gesturing to the newly installed hand-washing stations dotting the schoolyard, he eagerly explained the small makuti shelters the school had built around them. “How can we not protect these wonderful gifts from the sun?” he said, leading us to one of the thatched enclosures. “We want the stations to last. We want you to see how much the school appreciates them.”
Late last year, the IRC visited Natagilae to assess its water facilities. At that meeting, Khamala highlighted some of the school’s vulnerabilities. “Even the education office fears this place,” he remembers telling his visitors. ”There was no infrastructure, no pit latrines. We had nothing.” Without water, the school could not serve lunches (which are provided free). And because families could not collect water when they brought their children to school, they tended to keep them home to perform such household chores rather than learning in the classroom.
Cultivating acceptance for the importance of early childhood education, especially for girls, has been an uphill battle in this isolated community of nomadic herders. Natagilae Primary was established in 1995 by hopeful parents and the district school board to serve roughly 300 families. But with the nearest town, Lodwar, 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, the village struggled to maintain enrolment during hard times.
In December 2011, with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency, the IRC installed a 5,000-liter (more than 1,300 gallons) water tank at the school, along with gutters to collect rainwater to build reserves for the year’s two dry seasons. “The tank you’ve brought has been tremendously important to securing enrollment,” says Khamala. Matriculation, specifically for girls, skyrocketed for the school year that began in January 2012, and new faces appear every day.
The assurance of a steady supply of clean water has transformed Natagilae Primary into a more gender-balanced environment for learning. And by promoting better hygiene practices in the school, Natagilae Primary has made the entire community more aware of the benefits of formal education. Parents are learning key hygiene lessons as a result of their own children’s experiences, as well as their exposure to the “talking walls,” or the hygiene promotion messages painted on walls of the school’s classroom and the water tank.
When I asked Khamala about the future, he simply replied, “This place will grow. People see the benefit the IRC has brought to Natagilae. We all want to leave this place better than we found it.”
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