By Thokozani Chimbalanga, GSF Field Coordinator

For years, hundreds of learners at Mcheza Primary School in the area of Traditional Authority Sawali in Balaka District, southern Malawi had to scramble for five latrines each time nature called.

A nearby baobab tree and a maize field close to the school helped to relieve the pressure for the one latrine meant for up to 330 boys on one hand and pressure for four latrines constructed to serve up to 430 girls on the other as that is where the learners used to go to defecate.

The only water point at the school, a borehole, served not only the learners and teachers but surrounding villages as well. More pressure on the water source.

“Most of us were not washing our hands after visiting the latrines because there were always people fetching water at the borehole,” recalled Esther Bonongwe, a female student at the school.

Such was life for the learners - defecating in the open, breeding diseases in the process; failing to wash hands after visiting the latrine; and stripping themselves of their dignity as they squatted in the open to relieve themselves.

Thanks to the Global Sanitation Fund Programme which is supporting a sanitation project implemented by Training Support for Partners (TSP) in the area, the pathetic situation at Mcheza Primary School is history. TSP, which is using GSF support to help the entire area of Traditional Authority Sawali become open defecation free, intervened to save the school.
The intervention started with a meeting TSP organized to empower the Parents/Teacher Association (PTA) to be actively engaged in the school’s sanitation issues.

PTA members, mother groups, the School Management Committee and Area Development Committee members met and shared responsibilities in relation to the school’s sanitation situation.

An analysis by these concerned parties established the sanitation gaps that urgently required attention and an action plan was immediately drawn.

Today, Mcheza Primary School has sixteen additional latrines with drop-hole covers and buckets have been purchased, bringing new life to the school, according to Esther Bonongwe.

“The situation has now improved as we can now easily wash hands after visiting the latrine thanks to the water buckets conveniently placed at latrine sites”.

Another student, Lillian Kachitsa was all praises of the new latrine structures at the school.

“This is a great relief for us as we no longer go the maize field or to the baobab tree to relieve ourselves,” said Lillian, who also called upon older students to take part in educating the little ones on proper latrine use.

School Head-teacher a Mr. Lapansi noted that before the intervention by TSP, the school was losing out a lot.

“Children were spending a lot of class time looking for convenient places to relieve themselves but the latrines have solved that problem,” said Mr Lapansi.

The intervention at Mcheza Primary School is part of the efforts being undertaken under the Global Sanitation Fund Programme in Malawi.

It is anticipated that by 2015, 274 schools will have been reached with sanitation and hygiene messages. So far, 234 schools have already been reached.

“We are on the right track in terms of school sanitation. However, there is need for more empowerment of communities so that they should be able to mobilize resources for the installation of sanitation facilities in schools,” said Twitty Munkhondia, GSF Sanitation and Hygiene Technical Specialist at Plan Malawi.

In Malawi, diarrhea related diseases are said to be responsible for up to 7% of the deaths of under-five children.