Dar es Salaam. Rooney* (not his real name) is a Standard Six pupil at a public primary school that for long has been considered as one of the best in the country.
Located at the heart of the Central Business District of the country’s commercial city and only 200 metres from the State House, Bunge Primary School attracts attention from many parents and pupils alike. Even Rooney’s peers back home at Tabata Kisukuru are full of envy as they also wish they were enrolled at Bunge, one of the few public primary schools housed in storey buildings in the country.
Unbeknownst to the parents who wish they had enrolled their children to the school is that pupils studying at the facility face a grim reality that they have to grapple with everyday--poor toilet services. Due to the few toilets, the pupils are forced to queue for up to three minutes before accessing the service.
“Yes, I am proud of my school, and it has a big name, but the situation with our toilets is very bad,” says Rooney, adding “At times we get pressed so hard that two pupils are forced to use one toilet at a go.”
According to this young and cheerful boy, sometimes they can’t use the toilets at all and are forced to relieve themselves against the walls. “It is normal to go for days without the toilets being cleaned, and during that time you will find sewage scattered all over the floor.”
“The school has employed cleaners, yes, but they usually put more focus on staff toilets and abandon ours,” he says.
The toilets problem at Bunge as things stand for now is inevitable; the school population is 2,155 pupils with only seven working toilets, meaning each facility serves an average of 307 pupils instead of the standard ratio of one toilet for 25 boys; and, one for 20 girls.
To make matters worse, out of seven toilets, five are designated for girls and only two for boys. There are over 1,000 boys!
In contrast, just seven kilometres away from Rooney’s school, there is Buguruni Primary School located in an area populated by both middle and low income earners.
At Buguruni Primary School, where Omar Suleiman (another pupils) studies, things are a bit different.
The difference between the two schools is that, Buguruni’s school has a total of 40 pit-latrines and only 1,477 pupils.
At Buguruni Primary School, one pit-latrine, on average, is shared by 36 pupils, who have a relief nine times rather than their Bunge counterparts, despite such a rate being a bit higher than that required by the international standard.
“It is very rare to find queues in our toilets,” says Omar.
“There are latrines at our school. We’re the ones who clean them everyday. There is a duty schedule organising us to take turns under the supervision of the teacher on duty.”
According to the 2016 primary education statistics, the shortage of toilet facilities facing Bunge Primary School is not a new thing in Dar es Salaam. The country’s number one commercial city comes second only after Geita in the bottom ranks.
According to the same statistics, it is Kilimanjaro and Iringa regions that are regarded as being close to meeting the set standard ratio where 20 girls share a toile and 25 boys share one.
Bunge Primary School head teacher Radhia Mfalingundi says the shortage of toilets, especially for boys, is a big problem she has been struggling to solve for years. She says, the current situation whereby 400 boys share a toilet is not acceptable. The ratio is almost 16 times the one set by the government.
“The school has three other toilets that are currently not in use because they need to be renovated. Already, a construction firm was sent here to make their assessment on the task. The toilets were built in 1957,” says Radhia.
She says, the condition for the girls is slightly better. There are around 1,000 of them and they share five toilets.
“This problem is well known by the authorities to which we report. So, we’re optimistic work will start soon so that the problem would be sorted out,” she says.
All the toilets of the two-storey school structure have been built on the ground floor and according to Madam Radhia it is impossible to construct new toilets as the space at the school does not provide for that move.
It appears that even the working toilets will need some plumb work as water leakage is the norm. This forces pupils to draw water from taps located outside the toilets. One has to tip-toe to get in the toilet due to the leaked water.
For his part, Buguruni Primary School head teacher Ally Hassani says his school is facing a shortage of 27 toilets so as to fully attain the national set toilet-pupil ratio.
Just like at Bunge, Hassani says the government is aware of the shortage of pit-latrines at his school. He says they send reports to the authorities at every endof the month. This includes showing the things available and those needed.
“No steps have been taken so far. However, we decided to appeal to certain firms to support us as education stakeholders. We haven’t yet succeeded,” says Hassani, adding that water is accessed at the school as there is a water well.
Another teacher at the school, Gaigije Kiberenge suggests that in ensuring sanitation and hygiene among pupils a teacher on duty supervises the cleaning of the toilets as per the timetable.
“We apply soap when cleaning the toilets. We fetch water from the well using buckets. We encourage pupils to wash hands with clean water and soap,” he says.
But, a closer look by this reporter noted that the buckets in the toilets were empty. It suggested that pupils just relieved themselves without undertaking proper cleaning.
However, the teacher was quick to admit that the issue of pupils not washing hands after toilet use was a big challenge. He says, previously there were some water containers placed near the toilets for hand washing, but pupils destroyed them.
“Two buckets of water placed in the toilets are not enough for the number of the pupils available at the school as the pupils have even destroyed soaps we placed for them and as a teacher it is difficult to know who has gone out of the toilet,”says Gaigije.
Opinions from parents
There are a few parents who know about the challenges facing the pupils when needing toilet services at school.
Jackson Peter says it is very rare for a parent to try and find out how many toilets there are at a school where his children attend classes; likewise most don’t know the number of toilets there are at the school.
“Normally, all that the parents care about is getting a chance for their children to get enrolled. They believe the children are safe by being enrolled,” says Peter, a trader at Kisutu Market in the city.
When asked how many pupils are supposed to use a pit-latrine, Peter replies that he knows nothing except that it was very dangerous for too many pupils to share one toilet.
He advises the government to make more efforts in rescuing the schools by building enough toilets and repair those that are in bad state so that the health of pupils would be protected.
However, some parents are of the view that to blame the government alone for not improving toilet services at schools is not right. “We as parents are supposed to make contributions to building many toilets so that during a break our children should not wait for one another to use the toilets as this sometimes makes some of them relive themselves outside the toilets,” says Yunus Mremi, who claims to have a child studying at one of the schools in the city.
However, Mremi urges school inspectors not to end with checking academic matters alone but they should also observe the water, sanitation and hygiene matters in schools.
What health experts say
“If a toilet remains dirty for a long time, there is a possibility for the users to contract diseases, particularly urinary and fungal infections. In such a scenario, only one person is enough to put the entire community to risk,” says Dr Katoto Nestory from the National Health Insurance (NHIF).
He warns that many diseases could spread because of dirty containers being used, adding that even the water used for washing by the toilet user must be clean and safe.
For his part, Dr Sajjad Fazel, a drug and medical professional, explains that if urinary infections were not quickly treated they could cause some effects by spreading to the kidney and causing other problems.
“The children are vulnerable to such infections because their immunity is not stronger compared to that of adults,” says Dr Fazel.
HakiElimu’s Research and analytical manager Godfrey Bonaventure, says that shortage of toilet facilities in schools is a major problem, explaining that this year they attempted to speak about it so that the government would include it in its budget because there has been a shortage of toilets by 50 per cent.
“The toilet is a very important service not only to schools, but also to offices as it is some kind of service, which, if missed, can affect someone psychologically,” says Bonaventure.
“So, it is important to ensure that this service is available to children, the toilets are in a clean and friendly environment, enough toilet facilities for the children to access the service as the toilet serving few people, there is a great possibility for it to be cleaned up regularly,” he says.
The 2016 Best Report indicates that the ratio between pit-latrines and pupils in the country’s public schools is quite different.
“One pit-latrine is on average used by 57 boys instead of 25. And also one pit-latrine is on average used by 56 girls instead of 20,” reads part of the report.
According to the report, the ratio of the use of toilets in public and private schools in the country is 50 children for one pit-latrine, statistics that paint a bad picture as it could cause some negative impacts on the health and growth of the children.
Ilala Municipal Authorities speak out
The acting director of the Ilala Municipal Council, Ms Elizabeth Thomas, says despite the government allocating them with a budget in countering the challenges facing them, they have been able to set aside some cash from their collections and benefactors so they could improve school toilet services.
“In our own budget we have allocated Sh2.2 billion, which, despite addressing other challenges, will be spent on increasing 200 pit-latrines, and through the benefactors, we will be able to construct 80 pit-latrines,” she says.
The Ministry of State in the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), which is responsible for dishing out funds to public primary schools for development projects, says that its main job is to allocate funds asked in budgets of all councils in the country, taking note of their priorities and not deciding for them what to do.
“As a ministry it is hard to know how much a region needs, but through their priorities we can know and give them funds so that they could address the challenges facing them,” says the Tamisemi spokesperson Rebbeca Kwandu.
She elaborates that when recommendations are collected from the relevant places, then an amount of cash is given to every council so that the relevant region could budget the money due to its priorities.