In 1798, a sailor stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean uttered the now famous phrase, “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!"
These words could as well be said by Mr. Boniface Mbanda, the headteacher of Ugwe Primary School in Nyando, Kisumu County. Ugwe Primary school seats less than 500 meters from the shows of Lake Victoria, the worlds’ second largest freshwater lake. Besides, the lake region receives heavy rainfall all-year-round with Nyando Subcounty where the school is located in particular perennially experiencing flooding. Water, however, has been scarce for the 500 pupils of the school. The school is one of the schools that recently benefitted from the European Union Kenya COVID-19 Emergency Response programme implemented by the Kenya Red Cross.
The project, which begun in May 2020, sought to strengthen Kenya’s COVID-19 response in 20 high burden counties. Kenya Red Cross implemented in 10 counties in Coast, West Kenya and North Eastern regions, while AMREF Health Africa implemented in another 10 counties. The first phase of the project (May- December 2020) focused on strengthening the health response by providing much-needed support to hospitals. In this phase the project donated pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies; training of healthcare workers and sensitizing the community on infection and prevention control. Phase two (January-March 2021) focused on preparing public schools to reopen for learning after being closed for 9months. Under this phase, the project donated handwashing facilities and supplies to schools to support infection control. The facilities included large water tanks to support handwashing, smaller portable handwashing tanks and soap. Teachers in the schools were also trained on management of covid-19 including how to identify symptoms, isolate and refer suspected cases for treatment.
Mr. Mbanda whose school is one of those that received storage tanks explained that the tank and handwashing taps have been a major relief for his pupils. “This is a long-term solution to our water problems, which we have had for years. With the tank, we can now harvest clean water for use for all purposes,” he said. He added that the 16 taps have made handwashing easy and has reduced time wastage which was the case when they used the small plastic jerry cans. “The small jerry cans were difficult to manage with the huge number of pupils. It was impossible to maintain social distance because students would just crowd at the taps. Additionally, jerry cans the water would run out bringing an end to hand washing for days.” According to Mr. Mbanda, when filled to capacity the tank should last the school for at least two weeks. However, he has found himself with two new problems which he terms ‘good problems’.
Following the recent heavy rains in the area, two more schools were flooded and its pupils relocated to Ugwe Primary school bringing the number of pupils sharing the compound to 1,400. Besides, the community around have also been coming for water in the school. “We now have to share the water with members of the community. You see we now have the cleanest water around and since the school is just part of the community, we just have to allow them to get some water from here when our tank is full,” Mbanda said. Another headteacher over a hundred kilometers away in Kakamega shares a similar story. Mr. Wycliffe Athamas however does not have the kind of ‘problem’ that his Ugwe Primary counterpart has and can have his taps running for up to one month when the tank is filled to capacity. “We used to waste a lot of time sending pupils to a stream nearly half a kilometer away. It was not only time-wasting but also dangerous especially for the smaller children. There was always the risk of them being molested or abused by strangers,” Mr Athamas explained.
Under the school support phase, 256 needy schools in Coast, North Eastern and West Kenya Regions were supported with handwashing stations. 24 out of them received the 10,000 litres tanks and had handwashing stations with multiple taps installed while the rest received portable stations. Despite access to water and sanitation being a key target under UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6), many public schools in Kenya have no running water and other hygiene facilities. Data from UNICEF shows that only 59% of Kenyans have access to safe drinking water while a paltry 29% have access to improved sanitation. It is no wonder that despite the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic on Kenya’s socioeconomic life, both Mr. Mbanda and Atamas have something to celebrate from the pandemic- a drop of water to drink for their pupils!