Guest post by Gemma Bulos, Director of the Global Women’s Water Initiative.
At Amuria High School in Uganda, even though female students live at the school as boarders, perfect attendance is not guaranteed. Girl children are required to fetch water during school hours and they can sometimes miss up to three hours of school. Along the way to retrieve water, they also face the threat of violent attack, including sexual assault. What is more, since there is no water on the school grounds, their meals can be served late, and during menstruation they can miss up to a week of studies because they can’t clean themselves properly. In fact, without a reliable supply of clean water to drink, as many as five girls per day faint from dehydration.
According to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, “girls who have been educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller and healthier families. Educated women can recognize the importance of health care and know how to seek it for themselves and their children.” Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that, “young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.”
In 2012, Florence Acharit and Eunice Aliamo of Orphans and Widows Association for Development, a local non-governmental organization, met with the headmaster at the high school to propose a water project: to build a rainwater harvesting system. They had learned to build a roof catchment with an Interlocking Stabilized Soil Brick (ISSB) tank at the Global Women’s Water Initiative training. After speaking to the headmaster, they all agreed that the best place to build the tank would be on the girl’s dormitory to serve the 200 boarders who live there during the school year.
Before the tank was built, the school nurse reported that she used to spend much of her time and what little money the school had on medicines and trips to the clinic when the girls fell ill. Since the installation of the tank, water-related diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and urinary tract infections have decreased significantly. The cooks are also serving meals on time so the girls can be attentive and have energy for their studies.
This project didn’t just help the female boarders at Amuria Primary School. Families recognized the importance of having water on the school grounds, and came together to donate time and materials for the construction of the tank. According to the head teacher, they saved money that would otherwise be spent on clean water (approximately $3.25 US per day) and medical expenses when students fell ill from water-related disease (upwards of $120 US per week). Along with donations from the community, the high school has been able to accumulate over $4,400 US of the $7,200 US they need to complete construction of a borehole that will serve the community at large.
Water is keeping girls safe in school in Amuria and providing a foundation for them to have a healthy future. Everyone wins.