Namunyak at a Water Pump

“My name is Namunyak Ntsakikoi, I’m 11 years old and I’m from the Masaai tribe that lives in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. I’m a pupil of class 3 at Lositeti Primary School in the Kajiado Region in southern Kenya.”

Namunyak and her fellow students are wearing a burgundy school uniform and sit in the class room on wooden school desks. Due to lack of space, in the kindergarten classes, sometimes pupils even sit with four students on one bench. The lessons are in English and Swahili, the national languages of Kenya. But just like the pupils, the teachers also speak Masaai, the language of the Masaai tribe.

“We also get lessons in WASH, which stands for water, sanitation and hygiene,” Namunyak explains. “We learn, for example, to wash our hands after going to the toilet and before and after eating. For the washing of our hands, we use a leaky tin, which is a plastic jerry can we hung in a tree and in the bottom we’ve pinned a small hole, so a small stream of water comes out. With a stick we can easily open and close it. And the water dropping on the ground will benefit the tree. In this way, we don’t spoil a single drop.”

Namunyak lives in a very dry area where hardly any rain falls and no permanent rivers run through. In former times, Namunyak had to walk for many kilometres to fetch water from a small lake. But a few years back, Amref Health Africa repaired a water pump next to the school. Thanks to that, the whole community nowadays can use the water point next to the school, also to let their cattle drink. A pipe from the water point to the school provides the water for two taps on the school compound. “Since the water pump has been working again, there are more children at school, as they don’t have to walk far to fetch water for their families anymore,” says Josephine, the school headmaster.

In addition, Amref Health Africa has recently placed two large water tanks at the school compound, connected to the gutters. With this system, the school can easily collect rainwater. There’s still a small amount of water in one of the tanks, from the previous rain season. But hopefully it’s going to rain soon again.

“Before the pump was repaired, we had to ask the students to bring water themselves every morning,” Josephine says. “Students had to walk for many miles with a heavy jerry can and we couldn’t be sure if the water was clean. Since the water pump has been fixed, we are sure our students get clean water.”

In the beginning, the school didn’t have toilets and pupils had to go into the bushes around the school compound. “This wasn’t only unhygienic but also caused illnesses,” Josephine says. She incorporates this issue into her lessons . “It you don’t use a toilet, a fly can sit on your poop in the bushes and lands after that on your fingers and food. As a result, you might eat your own poop without knowing it, and might even swallow bacteria which make you ill,” she tells the students who all start to laugh. “By going to enclosed toilets and wash your hands after your visit, you make sure there won’t be any bacteria from your feces in your food."

With support from Amref Health Africa, separated toilets for boys, girls and teachers have been built recently. “It’s not good when boys and girls share the same toilet,” Josephine says. “If girls are having their monthly period, they may feel uncomfortable and might stay away from school. But since we now also have a separate toilet for girls with an enclosed shower next to it, where the girls can refresh, they don’t feel uncomfortable anymore during their monthly period and are able to follow all classes throughout the year.”

“I’m also a member of the School Health Club,” Namunyak says. “Every morning, all the members clean the schoolyard, classrooms and restrooms, and we refill all the leaky tins. We also remove grass from the school compound, because snakes like to hide in it and it attracts mosquitoes that can cause the deadly disease malaria. During the breaks, we also help the younger students to wash their hands.”

"After school, I always walk back home with Kutatu, my seven-year-old brother. With my parents, my six brothers and two sisters-in-law I live in a boma a few kilometres from school. A boma is a group of Masaai huts surrounded by thorn bushes to keep wild animals and other intruders outside." According to the Masaai tradition the women make the huts. When my mother wants to build a new one, she asks a number of women from the community to help and we girls watch, to learn how to do it later ourselves.”

At Namunyak’s home they now have a leaky tin and a toilet made of iron sheets. “I teach my small cousins - the children of my brothers – to wash their hands at the leaky tin after each toilet visit and before and after eating. I also help them with washing their face. In school we’ve learned a song about the importance of washing your face regularly. This prevents trachoma, a disease which makes people blind. Flies that sit in your eyes cause trachoma. But when regularly washing your face, flies sit less often on your face.”

"It's very wise to teach young children about water, hygiene and sanitation,” says Josephine. “They can teach younger students and their own family members and be an example for the rest of the community. In this way, we become a healthy society.”

Photo Credit: 
Jeroen Van Loon