A Lack Of Water And Toilets In Schools Is Holding Children Back From Fulfilling Their Dreams

The much-awaited 'back to school' week is upon us - the school bags are packed, the lunchboxes are made, and the obligatory photos of children looking cute in their uniforms have been uploaded to social media.

The much-awaited 'back to school' week is upon us - the school bags are packed, the lunchboxes are made, and the obligatory photos of children looking cute in their uniforms have been uploaded to social media.

While there is a lot for parents to think about, such as whether their child will make friends or like their new teacher, what they won't be wondering here in the UK is whether they will get any water to drink at school or where they will go when they need the toilet. Sadly, this is a daily concern for many around the world as one in three schools have no clean water or decent toilets, having a detrimental impact on the students' education.

On top of this, around 263 million children aged between six and 17 will not be going to school at all this week, or any other, with a lack of access to water and decent sanitation being a major obstacle. Without these basic necessities, millions of children are exposed to deadly diseases as well as being denied a happy, dignified childhood.

With no toilets in schools, pupils often have to go to the bush to relieve themselves, go back home, or just hold it in for the whole day.

Zakir is only 10 and as his school in Pakistan has no water source or toilets so he has to walk into the jungle to relieve himself.

Zakir in class, Pakistan. Credit: WaterAid/Sibtain Haider

Zakir said: "When we need the toilet, we go to the jungle. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk there. Our clothes and shoes get dirty, so we sometimes have to go home to change our clothes. It's not right; we should have proper toilets in our school."

For girls, the lack of toilets can be even more disruptive for their education, with many skipping school when they start their period, or dropping out altogether, if there are no decent sanitation facilities or space to wash themselves. A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle.

Eleven-year-old Shaneela is no longer allowed to go to school because of the lack of toilets there, although her male relatives can still go.

Shaneela at home, Pakistan. Credit: WaterAid/Malin Fezehai

And it's not just the pupils who suffer; keeping teachers in schools is also an issue when there are no water or sanitation facilities.

Tryness Msowoya, 26, a teacher at Kambira Primary School in Malawi, considered leaving her school because there was no water supply or toilets until WaterAid intervened:

"To collect water, we used to wake up around 3am. This impacted on our ability to teach well as we were tired. Also, we used to have a lot of diarrhoea cases, especially amongst our young pupils. Teachers left for another school but I told myself to stay a little longer. The first time I got a bucket of clean water from the new borehole, my life changed for the better."

Drinking dirty water causes sickness, which can be deadly, with 289,000 children under five dying each year due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation; that's 800 a day. Even if children recover, they still miss valuable school-time. An estimated 443 million school days a year are lost due to water-related illnesses (Human Development Report, 2006).

One in ten children have no clean water at home, and girls in particular spend hours walking to collect water, leaving little time for school, keeping them trapped in poverty and stopping them reaching their potential.

Maritha, 15, from Zambia, misses a lot of school because she has to collect water and help her family with chores: "I go to school as often as I can, but sometimes I miss it for two weeks continuously as I spend a lot of time collecting water and harvesting crops. With education one stands a better chance of finding a job and living well in the future. If I don't stay in school, I am likely to be married off."

Maritha often misses school as she has to collect water and help harvest crops, Zambia. Credit: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

Children all over the world have dreams about what they'll be when they grow up; but not every child has the opportunity to make it happen.

To enable children everywhere to have the chance of a good education, we must ensure all schools have access to clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene. These form the foundations to a healthy, prosperous life.

WaterAid wants to make clean water and decent toilets normal for every child and every school everywhere by 2030. You can join The Water Fight and sign the petition at wateraid.org.


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