Bridgette Sekyi has always been passionate about education. When she and her husband moved from Accra to the more rural region of Kwabre in Ghana, she noticed that the schools in her area had a problem. Upon her move, she said, “I was sad to see the schools around here did not have any toilets or water. The whole community faces health issues. The houses don’t have running water, so families have to go fetch water from boreholes, but sometimes the queues are very long. And there is only one public toilet in the whole of the community.”
Bridgette decided to do something about this problem. Her goal was to build a school that offered children in her community a high-quality education, including English lessons, and helped children stay healthy, especially given the prevalence of waterborne illnesses in the community.
Now, Bridgette says, “When children arrive to my school in the morning, the first thing they do is run to the toilet.”
Every year, children in developing countries lose an estimated 443 million school days due to water-related illnesses1—an amount that equates to each student (K-12) in the U.S. missing two weeks of every grade. Girls can lose up to an additional 20% of their school days due to menstruation when their schools do not have safe, gender-separated bathrooms2. Each of these missed days, however, is preventable by ensuring schools have improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and services.
In partnership with organizations like the Caterpillar Foundation, Opportunity International is working to implement initiatives to improve access to and usage of WASH facilities in schools.
In Ghana, Opportunity International, Sinapi Aba Savings and Loan (SASL), and Water.org partnered in 2016 to pilot and launch WASH loans. As a result of this collaboration, SASL, which is one of Opportunity’s long-time financial institution partners in Ghana, now has an internal WASH specialist and offers loans to help households install WASH facilities, such as toilets or clean water systems, as well as for entrepreneurs to expand their WASH-focused businesses, such as plumbers or suppliers of water filters and toilets.
Opportunity and SASL also offer School Improvement Loans, which are frequently used by school owners like Bridgette to improve the WASH facilities at their schools, such as digging wells, building gender-separated bathrooms, and adding hand-washing stations. Additionally, Opportunity’s Education team works alongside schools by organizing them into clusters to provide training and support as school owners work to address quality improvements at their schools – many of whom make WASH provisions a main priority to improve attendance, health, and hygiene of their students.
As we look to the future, Opportunity hopes to continue improving WASH in schools through several key initiatives, including:
- Helping school owners improve WASH, add infrastructure, and create gender-focused facilities at their schools through increased access to financing and technical assistance.
- Increasing awareness and improving attitudes toward WASH best practices through training and community campaigns.
In Rwanda, initiatives like these have made it possible for students like Christella to go to—and stay in—school, even as they grow. Take a moment to watch her story, be inspired, and better understand the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools.
1. Human Development Report, 2006. http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2006%20Global%20HDR/HDR-2006-Beyond%20scarcity-Power-poverty-and-the-global-water-crisis.pdf
2. The World Bank, 2016. http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/globally-periods-are-causing-girls-be-absent-school