When toilets matter - By Robert Kariuki


Mrs Valerie Ooro, deputy head at Ofafa Jericho Primary School explains a point about the renovated ablution block (Photo credit, Robert Kariuki)

Going to the toilet is a simple yet complicated act depending on the environment surrounding the call of nature. For children growing up in Nairobi’s informal settlements, it is an added risk to their personal safety. It is no coincidence that girls and women have been attacked and sexually molested while trying to answer the call of nature. Pit latrines are normally located in open and insure places, forcing users to manoeuvre through congested, insecure and filthy terrain to access them.

For school-age children and teenagers, school offers them the safety and privacy when they need to use the toilets. Back home, as darkness falls over Nairobi city, they have learnt to endure until the new day dawns.

At Ofafa Jericho Primary School, located in Nairobi’s Eastlands area, the renovation of the ablution block is a source of great pride for the 703 boys and girls as well as school employees. Not only is the new block of toilets and washrooms for both girls and boys designed to serve the various age-groups, it has been well received and lauded for being sensitive to both gender and age requirements. This also places the school in the league of child-friendly schools, an initiative promoted by the Women Education Researchers of Kenya (WERK) with the support of UNICEF, Educate A Child and the Ministry of Education.

In a bid to promote access to quality education for both in and out of school children, the consortium of partners also focuses on promoting health and sanitation. With the rest of the school buildings in a dilapidated condition, the well-furnished, freshly painted child-friendly toilets are a big contrast and a great source of pride to the learners and school management alike. The boys’ lavatories are fitted with a green metal-grid gate, and a dark green-painted door. In the partitioned washroom block, there are ten cubicles each fitted with a small green door that ensures total privacy while inside. The walls surrounding the block are painted in white and blue and at the front of the toilets are four washbasins. The toilets are modern and fitted with flush systems. Included in the toilet block is a urinal chamber and a spacious shower area. The male staff lavatories are separated from the boys and include two toilet cubicles, a urinal and a washbasin. The white oriental style ceramic toilet bowls are fitted to the ground level and require users to squat.


Victor Owino (Photo credit Robert Kariuki)

However, the revamp of the cloakrooms came with great responsibilities for the users. Cleanliness is the only option here. The girl’s toilets are even more spacious with extra cubicles and changing room. Many girls are shy to talk about the toilets and a few delight in the fact that they now have a place of solace. A place where they can now attend to the call of nature in privacy, safety and dignity. Boys like Victor Owino had to be taught how to use the new toilets since they had never seen one before, let alone knowing how to use it. Children are discouraged from playing around with the installed facilities: “With the guidance and instructions from teachers we learnt how to use the renovated toilets. For me it Victor Owino (Photo credit Robert Kariuki) wasn’t hard to learn but for the smaller boys it posed a major challenge. Gradually though, with assistance from their colleagues and teachers, they learnt to make good use of them. Most of us dwell in the nearby slum where we use pit latrines and we don’t really pay keen attention to washing hands after using the toilet, so our teachers were really strict on that until it sunk in,” says Victor.

The school’s headmistress Mrs Elizabeth Ochieng Kokwach explains that the renovations to the washrooms have ensured a conducive learning environment: “Our toilets were in a pathetic state. The toilers were clogged toilets and the sewer systems had openings that were endangering the lives of everyone. Bur the new washrooms beautiful and conducive for use.” Echoing the sentiments of her senior, Valerie Ooro, the school deputy headmistress expresses her joy and lauds the efforts by partners in the rehabilitation process: “Nowadays county governments don’t renovate school infrastructure as was previously done by the former municipal or city council in the past.” Although the government allocates funds for renovations, it is actually too little to support major repairs in every aspect. When UNICEF intervened for the renovation of 34 toilets, the children were understandably excited. One major problem affecting the school is the inadequate supply of water which impacts negatively on the normal running of the institution. The management has been forced to purchase water for cooking and cleaning. Due to this biting problem, children are often asked to carry water from home to use in the washrooms. “The school structures are improving and it is pleasant to see things getting better but the main problem in this school happens to be access to water. It is really a major issue that needs urgent attention. We don’t get water to use in the washrooms and to clean our dishes after taking lunch. We are sometimes forced to bring 5 litres of water from home to use in school,” says Victor.

“The taps are dry because we don’t have running water. We are forced to purchase water and it’s very expensive that sometimes it ends up eating a large chunk of our budget. The flush units in the toilets cannot be used effectively without running water so we had to improvise by putting up water storage containers and pupils can pour water when they are done using the toilets. It will be a major relief if we can sink our own borehole in the school compound to avert the acute water shortage that we are currently experiencing,” Mrs Ooro appeals. Mrs Kokwach appeals for more support especially in for school furniture and enhancing the capacity for water shortage. “The renovations of the washrooms have not only improved sanitation in school but also boosted the academic performance of children. We commend the efforts of WERK in rehabilitating the washrooms for boys, girls and the staff. At the moment, we face fresh challenges in structures and furniture, classrooms have broken windows while desks and chairs are in a dilapidated state. Water is also a major challenge. We plead for more support and investments in these areas,” she adds. about_werk The male staff toilets (Photo credit, Robert Kariuki)


To achieve the above stated goals, WERK has been working with in partnership with likeminded organizations with a view to having a vibrant and community of practice. The core team is made up of the following organizations: