Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Stinky Problem

The project I’ve been looking to work on for the past couple weeks has come in one of the least desirable, yet strangely very important, ways. Raila Education Centre schools over 1,100 students currently, all of which use an outhouse with about 4 stalls for the females and 8 stalls for the males. Of those, only about half are in “operation”. I’m not exactly sure what this means because you don’t need much technology to operate a squatty potty, it’s a hole in the ground where you simply squat and let it flow. But nonetheless, about half of the stalls are boarded up and can no longer be opened. Of the ones being used, none are in very good condition. They are covered in residue from the wastes children have left on the floor when they couldn’t quite get their aim right into the hole. Doors are broken on some, and no attempts to clean these latrines has been made to my knowledge since they were first put up, about 3-4 years ago. Additionally, you have the problem of locals from Kibera climbing over the fence at night to break in and use the latrines themselves as well, which contributes even more to the lack of sanitation. Water was once running by the latrines to allow children to wash hands after using the restroom, but unfortunately the tube that connected the faucet to the water store was stolen at night, so water is no longer available by these latrines.
The reason I’m so concerned about this issue is because as an intern here I’m also involved with treating sick students that come into the makeshift nurse’s office we have in the First Love building. Nobody qualified works in the office, but this gets even worse when you consider that the reason we see so many children every day is because of some of the very easily solved, yet unattended, problems with sanitary practices. Students come in all the time with stomach aches or scrapes that could easily be infected. Just yesterday, I had to perform my first tooth extraction when I found a young boy trying to pull the tooth of his even younger friend. Kenyans living in Kibera have much stronger immune systems than most people, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the health concerns they face. Their life expectancy is consequently very low because of such health risks.
So what started as a plea to just get clean bathrooms has turned into a pretty big task. I started by working through Christian Union, a group of students that gather bi-weekly to discuss how they can grow into their Christian faith as young adults. I spoke at one of their meetings about responsibility, as it is presented in the Bible, and proposed the idea of working on cleaning up the school. An initiative like this really can’t come from me, because the important part of it is maintenance which is going to take place once I’m gone. They need to be empowered to work on this project themselves, so I guided them through some planning and we tentatively set up a work day. The other factor is the involvement of the school. I found out after talking to some people that the latrines hadn’t been exhausted (i.e. sucked out) in a very long time, so our efforts to clean them may be put to waste if they are not exhausted before we start work. This, and even the larger problem of lack of school sanitation, should be coming from the school and their funds, not First Love. I set up a meeting with the deputy principal of the school yesterday to discuss funding of projects like this. He admitted to me that the school is not spending money properly, they have incorrect priorities. The school receives funding from the government and also charges a fee from every student for attendance, this means that there is a lot capital floating around, but I am still unclear as to where this goes. It’s a mystery I’m still working on figuring out in the coming days and weeks, but am eager to find answers for.

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