The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for Equitable Education Campaign and WASH in school Facility Level Improvement Plan has been launched in Monrovia under the auspices of the Advocacy Action on Girls-Friendly WASH in school project.
Co-hosted by the Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), the project is a brainchild of two alumni of the United States Exchange programs, Facia Harris and Hawa Wilson funded by the 2021 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of the U.S State Department.
Giving a background of the project during the launch at the Bella Casa Hotel in Monrovia on Friday, July 29, 2022, Hawa Wilson, a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow said the initiative seeks to enhance the quality of learning environment for students, most especially females by improving access to accepted WASH facilities.
“It seeks directly to hence the quality of learning environment for all students, most especially female by influencing schools to develop and implement policies and practices that always allow them to always have available clean and assessable toilets, especially for girls,” she said.
Ms. Wilson said ten schools in Montserrado, and Margibi Counties are participating in the project funded by the United States Exchange Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of 2021. There are 3 private schools – Amos T. Taybior Institute, New Destiny School and Rev. Mark H. Parker School: and 7 Public Schools – Peace Island Community School, Dixville Public School, Upper Caldwell Public School, Soul Clinic Public School, Harbel Multilateral School, Duazon Public School and Gibraltar Public School.
“The Action for Advocacy Action on Girls-Friendly WASH in school project is intended to adequately work with schools in Montserrado and Margibi Counties. Initially, we did an assessment of 30 schools and out of the 30 schools, 10 high schools were selected” Ms. Wilson said.
In a statement at the launch, the Public Affairs Officer of the United States Embassy Monrovia, Sean Boda said the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector is a huge priority of the partnership between the United States government and the Liberian government.
Boda disclosed that about sixty million dollars is being spent on the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector alone.
“Our biggest investment is in health that is where we put in more of the money through USAID. So this launch supported by the Alumni Engagement Fund is just one of the many ways US Government support WASH projects in Liberia,” the US Diplomat said.
According to Boda, the WASH for Equitable Education Campaign funded by the United States Exchange Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of 2021 will directly benefit students by enhancing the quality of the learning environment, especially for female students.
“This project is sustainable because it is partnering with selected schools to help institutionalize policies and practices in their schools,” he said.
The US Embassy Public Affairs Officer, therefore urged school administrators, students, as well as parents of the ten selected schools to take advantage of the project. “So it is a small investment of funds, but with the involvement of the PTA, school administrators, students and community activists, this project will be sustained,” Boda added.
Giving an overview of the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of 2021, Boda said it intends to support Alumni initiatives that promote public service projects that are sustainable, and impactful and of share values of innovative solutions to global problems.
“Since 2011, the State Department has awarded over 400 of these grants of which this is one of them,’ he further stated.
Officially launching the project, the Director of Technical Services at the National WASH Commission, Prince Kreplah disclosed that enrollment of female students in schools is being hampered due to the lack of adequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
“WASH played a very serious role in enrollment, without adequate access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, enrollment could be undermined, because hundreds of school-going kids will get sick because of the lack of WASH facilities,” Director Kreplah said.
Director Kreplah assured PAYOWI and the Advocacy Action on Girls-Friendly WASH in school project of the Commission’s willingness to support the project.
“The WASH Commission will work with you on this project because the National statistics say there are about 67 to 76 percent of our country that have access to basics water services, then just 15 percent have access to basic sanitation facilities, while five percent practice good hygiene, so what these statistics tell us as a country is that we have to work hard to mitigate these challenges,” he said.
Speaking via zoom from Kenya, a Liberian WASH Expert, Magdalene Matthews said only fifty percent of schools in Liberia have safe drinking water, while sanitation and hygiene remain a huge challenge.
“According to WHO and UNICEF joint monitoring program report on WASH in schools, only 50 percent of schools in Liberia have drinking water,” Madam Matthew said.
She added: “When we are talking about WASH in schools, we are talking about three cardinal areas, we are talking about drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.
So you can’t just say we have WASH in school when you only have drinking water or functional toilet, you have to make sure to have water, sanitation and hygiene facilities,”.
Giving a testimony of how the project has impacted his school, the Principal of the Gibraltar Public School on Bushrod Island, Foday Kawah, lamented how female students at the school usually missed classes during their menstrual period due to lack of sanitary pads.
“It used to reach a point where some of my female students will come to me and say, Mr. Kawah I am sick, and I will ask them whether I should send for medication, but they will say no, the sickness is a period of menstruation”.
“So some of them used to go home for three to five days, so it became a great challenge, but when we started working with Paramount Young Women Initiative, based on the education provided; we were made to understand that sometimes we needed to buy sanitary pads and keep them in the office and have a clean toilet facility and water that the girls are able to access especially when they are on their menstruation,” he explained
According to Alumni Facia Harris, the project is in response to the continuous complaint by female students of lack of access to clean water and toilet facilities on their school campuses. “We have been working with high schools girls for many years, every time we meet in the mentoring sessions, one of the complaints that have remained consistent is that there are no clean toilet facilities and water to enable them to ease themselves and change their pad during menstruation in a dignified way. So, this project is designed to help create the needed awareness of access to WASH and promote menstrual hygiene management so that female students and teachers”. Alumni Harris thanked the participating schools, Parents Teachers Association, and Students for recognizing and agreeing to act together and address WASH issues as human rights issues and how crucial it is to the health, menstrual hygiene, and learning of girls.
The project, according to Facia Harris will continue Advocacy to enhance the abilities of girls and the student council governments with the skills and tools to advocate, engage, and influence through dialogue and public outreach/sensitization in their schools and 25 surrounding communities that WASH facilities are health-friendly, especially for girls and surrounding communities practice proper waste disposal.