Dig­nity re­stored for learn­ers

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

BOBETE, THABA-TSEKA — Sixteen-year old ‘Mantsali Se­lumi can fi­nally af­ford a smile thanks to the Le­sotho Red Cross So­ci­ety and Wat­eraid South­ern Africa who built toi­lets at her Marumo Pri­mary School and Bobete Pri­mary School this past week.

She can now fo­cus on achiev­ing good grades at school in or­der to re­alise her long cher­ished dream of be­com­ing a sol­dier.

It was a dream which, for the last three years, ap­peared to be in jeop­ardy af­ter the Marumo Pri­mary School pupil be­gan ab­sent­ing her­self from school to avoid the “hu­mil­i­a­tion” of hav­ing her monthly pe­ri­ods at a school with­out ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

At first, ‘Mantsali was over­joyed to start men­stru­at­ing as it sig­ni­fied her tran­si­tion from be­ing a child to a “big girl” or ma­ture woman.

The joy soon trans­formed into a night­mare es­pe­cially as the lack of dis­posal fa­cil­i­ties at the school meant her used san­i­tary pads could turn up any­where for the pub­lic to see.

The most graphic il­lus­tra­tion of her shame was the sight of a dog run­ning around with one of the blood-soaked pads.

It was an em­bar­rass­ment that de­vel­oped into a loathing for school re­sult­ing in peren­nial ab­sen­teeism.

Marumo Pri­mary School, sit­u­ated 33 kilo­me­ters east of Thaba-tseka town, was one of the many schools in the district where the lack of proper san­i­ta­tion ser­vices forced pupils and teach­ers to use the bush to re­lieve them­selves.

Although both men and women bore the brunt of this lack of ba­sic san­i­ta­tion ser­vices, fe­male pupils and teach­ers were most af­fected es­pe­cially dur­ing their monthly men­strual cy­cle.

“We would go into the bushes and search for a safe place to change our pads and throw them into the river,” nar­rated a vis- ibly em­bar­rassed ‘Mantsali.

“But see­ing a dog run­ning around with a pad socked in fresh blood hit me hard and I cried in silent em­bar­rass­ment as other chil­dren laughed at the sight.”

The mere pos­si­bil­ity the pad could have been hers hurt so much and started her on the road to re­sent­ing and fi­nally absconding from school.

And with that, she would have added her name to the 42 per­cent of African school drop-outs.

“I would bunk school even on days that I was not on my pe­riod. I got to a point where I did not care about my marks at school. I hated school and the more my par­ents and teach­ers tried talk­ing to me, the more I hated it,” ‘Mantsali said.

Touched by hers and other pupils’ plight, Le­sotho Red Cross So­ci­ety and Wat­eraid South­ern Africa de­cided to build ven­ti­lated im­proved pits (VIP) toi­lets for the two schools early this year.

The ges­ture will cer­tainly go a long way in help­ing the coun­try achieve Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGS) tar­gets on ed­u­ca­tion aimed at en­sur­ing girls and boys com­plete free, eq­ui­table and qual­ity pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion lead­ing to rel­e­vant and ef­fec­tive learn­ing out­comes. Ac­cord­ing to SDG 4.5, by 2030 Le­sotho should “elim­i­nate gen­der dis­par­i­ties in ed­u­ca­tion and en­sure equal ac­cess to all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional train­ing for the vul­ner­a­ble, in­clud­ing per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, in­dige­nous peo­ples and chil­dren in vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tions”.

And ‘Mantsali’s dream to be­come a sol­dier is back on track, thanks to the ges­ture.

“The toi­lets gave me back my life. I no longer worry about dogs run­ning around with my used pads. I no longer have an ex­cuse for fail­ing to get good marks,” she says.

Of the 10 toi­lets, four each are for girls and boys and the other two for teach­ers.

Two of the VIPS were spe­cially de­signed to cater for the fe­male pupils and teach­ers dur­ing their pe­ri­ods. They are equipped with wash­ing basins and built-in san­i­tary bins cov­ered with dis­pos­able plas­tics for easy emp­ty­ing.

“When you en­ter the toi­let, you close the door, sit on the seat and change your pad and any­thing you have used,” ex­plained Class 7 pupil Libak­iso Lekere.

The 15-year old was one of the Marumo Pri­mary School pupils in­ducted on the proper use of the toi­lets.

She fur­ther ex­plained wa­ter had to be poured into the wash­ing basin with pupils sup­posed to thor­oughly wash their hands to en­sure good hy­giene.

The fi­nal task, Libak­iso in­di­cated, would be to re­move the dis­pos­able plas­tic and throw it into a pit specif­i­cally con­structed for the used pads.

The two me­tre deep pit, sit­u­ated right next to the toi­lets, is se­curely locked and pupils could only gain ac­cess with per­mis- sion from the teach­ers.

Libak­iso said it was ev­ery pupil’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the toi­let was kept clean at all times.

“If the toi­let is dirty, we don’t have to wait for any­one to in­struct us to clean it. We vol­un­tar­ily clean it,” she says.

Ad­dress­ing the gath­er­ing, Le­sotho Red Cross So­ci­ety Se­nior Wa­ter, Hy­giene and San­i­ta­tion (WASH) Of­fi­cer Thabang Toloane said the toi­lets were built soon af­ter Men­strual Hy­giene Man­age­ment (MHM) Day cel­e­bra­tion in Thaba-tseka on 28 May this year.

“We dis­cussed is­sues rang­ing from the non-avail­abil­ity of san­i­tary pads and toi­lets as stum­bling blocks to girl chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion,” Mr Toloane said.

“We in­vited the Le­sotho Times and their ar­ti­cle in­flu­enced some pol­icy de­ci­sions and we are glad peo­ple have taken up the is­sue of avail­ing san­i­tary tow­els to vul­ner­a­ble girls.”

He said send­ing girls to schools was not enough on its own, adding the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment should be con­ducive for girls to re­main in school and com­pete on a level field with their male coun­ter­parts.

“Avail­ing pads alone is not enough to achieve MHM. Toi­lets should also ad­dress chal­lenges women and girls face dur­ing the monthly men­strual cy­cle. There should also be ac­cess to wa­ter so they can wash their hands af­ter­wards.”

Mr Toloane said they hoped the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in Thaba-tseka would con­struct sim­i­lar or bet­ter san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties for schools in the district. He also re­vealed the WASH project in Bobete would be com­plete next March.

“If these projects are main­tained well, this com­mu­nity could be re­cip­i­ents of other fu­ture projects since it would be a sign of com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.”

As part of ini­tia­tives en­sur­ing Marumo pupils and teach­ers ob­serve good hy­giene prac­tices, Mr Toloane said they also built a tippy tap are for wash­ing hands af­ter toi­let use and prior to touch­ing food.

For his part, Marumo School Act­ing Prin­ci­pal Pokello Kamoli said the school never had toi­lets since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1960.

“Learn­ers and teach­ers would roam the bushes search­ing for spots to re­lieve them­selves. If it was em­bar­rass­ing for me as a man, then you can imag­ine girls and women dur­ing their monthly pe­ri­ods,” Mr Kamoli said.

He said the sit­u­a­tion got worse at the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer and win­ter crop­ping sea­sons as herd-boys would ha­rass pupils while they were re­liev­ing them­selves.

Mr Kamoli said valu­able learn­ing time was wasted in walk­ing to the bush and look­ing for ideal spots for re­lief.

He also re­vealed that in last year’s Pri­mary School Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate (PSLC), Marumo School only had third class passes, which con­trib­uted to Thaba-tseka’s 10th po­si­tion na­tion­ally in the 2015 PSLC re­sults.

“It now takes less than two min­utes to and from the toi­lets and our girls are a lot happier in class.

“Those with ac­cess to proper san­i­tary pads are no longer miss­ing school dur­ing their monthly pe­ri­ods,” he added.

Marumo School board chair­per­son Chopo Tsuinyane vowed to take care of the fa­cil­i­ties.

“We prom­ise to take good care of the projects and en­sure fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will also ben­e­fit,” Mr Tsuinyane said.

Thaba-tseka District Coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tive ‘Ma­likopo Malatal­iana said an­swer­ing the call of na­ture was a “happy ex­er­cise only when it is done in a com­fort­able place”.

“It is even nicer when you know you can change your san­i­tary pad in a safe, pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment where noth­ing can lower your dig­nity,” said Ms Malatal­iana.

She ad­vised the school man­age­ment to brace for a higher en­rol­ment as more pupils were likely to join the school next year be­cause of the fa­cil­i­ties.

“Some­times is­sues like toi­lets in­flu­ence the choice of a par­tic­u­lar school. San­i­ta­tion ser­vices might ap­pear like a mi­nor con­sid­er­a­tion but of know­ing where to re­lieve your­self is enough to boost a child’s con­fi­dence and sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­ute to good per­for­mance,” the for­mer pri­mary school teacher said.

The toi­lets gave me back my life. I no longer worry about dogs run­ning around with my used pads. I no longer have an ex­cuse for fail­ing to get good marks

LIBAK­ISO Lekere show­cases the fa­cil­i­ties in one of the VIP toi­lets.

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