By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Mphunzi Primary School is in Mphunzi village, in a remote part of Dedza. In the rainy season, the weather is cool and is surrounded by green hills with breathtaking scenery. Despite the beauty students see on a daily basis, the school’s isolation has left it without access to clean water for years.
Chata Joisty is a student at Mphunzi Primary School, and he recalls life at school before safe water. “We would walk 30 minutes from the school during break time to get water when we were thirsty. By the time we would come back to class, we would’ve have missed out on a few lessons and it had a negative effect on our school performance. Our toilets were also unhygienic because we never had water to clean them.”
Water struggles at home and at school
Chata is 15 years-old and has spent all his life in the Chakadza village in Dedza. He is the second born in a family with five children. Dressed in his blue and yellow uniform shirt, he explains how his parents, who are farmers, don’t make enough money to take care of the whole family. They also lack access to safe water at home, taking a 40-minute walk to fetch water for the house from a well.
Students would use the same well to fetch their water. Chata’s headteacher, Mr. Kapetuka explains that this water would sometimes make children sick because it wasn’t clean. “Children would skip class because of water related illnesses. They would walk for 1.5 to 2km to access water at the well and compete with the community when they get there. Sometimes there would be congestion and the water would get finished. We would ask learners to bring water from their homes in bottles to help clean the toilets. Life was tough.”
Another challenge was food preparation for the school feeding programme, as the school did not have safe water to cook food. The volunteer cooks were forced to draw water from unprotected wells, and they didn’t always have chlorine to treat the water.
The big turnaround
The turnaround for Mphunzi came when UNICEF constructed a solar powered reticulated water system at the school as part of the Living Schools Project. The solar water system has a tap stand that is close to all the classrooms. Students now have easy access to safe water at their disposal.
Mr. Kapetuka shared what had changed for the school. They have cleaner classrooms, toilets and cooking materials, as well as better handwashing thanks to improved hygiene practices. Even better, the water availability is attracting teachers to stay at the school. “For the teachers, it is a great relief. Some teachers were close to leaving our school because of the scarcity of water, and now they’ve been encouraged to stay,” Mr. Kapetuka reveals. “We have also decided to establish a vegetable garden at the school to help with feeding students. We’re also attracting new learners to the school with the availability of water. Every term we have had an increase in class size. The children are so excited.”
Support from UNICEF
The UNICEF Living Schools project aims to increase access to quality basic education for Malawian children through expanded infrastructure. In addition, it hopes to improve access to quality education with resilient teachers, students and communities. This can contribute to retention and completion of primary school education with the safe, healthy and engaging environments. For Mphunzi, this included the solar water system.
“The provision of safe water in schools in critical in promoting quality education. Safe water allows children to learn in a clean environment and reduces the spread of diseases that may affect attendance at school,” says Kimanzi Muthengi, UNICEF Malawi Chief of Basic Education and Adolescents. “The water is also key in the greening of the Living Schools, when children begin planting trees, grass, flowers and fruits.”
In the midst of some of the problems that the school still faces, Chata is simply happy that his school has water. “Now the water tap is a minute away from class. My peers are happy, and I am happy. We’re able to wash our hands after using the toilet, and we no longer skip class sessions because of the long wait for water,” he illustrates cheerfully.
Chata is also a bright student at school who regularly finishes in the top 3 of his class. His favorite subjects are English and maths. “My parents are very proud of me because of how well I’m doing in my studies. When I pass my exams, they give me money to buy shoes, clothes and notebooks. They encourage me to always stay focused,” he says.