What Happens When You Mix Clean Water, Soap and Students?

What Happens When You Mix Clean Water, Soap and Students?

School attendance goes up, students get healthier and governments pay attention

For many poor families, an education is a road to a happier future and the school a symbol of hope and expectation. But in the absence of such basic amenities as safe water for drinking, soap for washing hands and clean toilets, the school can become a place of embarrassment, shame and disgust – particularly for adolescent girls.

Advocates of school water, sanitation and hygiene (known collectively as school WASH) have long insisted that these services are as integral to a learning environment as chalk and textbooks. In Kenya,  government funds to schools are so insufficient that school administrators have to make tough choices, often prioritizing building new classrooms or paying for utilities and books over investments in improving water, sanitation and hygiene for students and teachers.   

CARE's SWASH+ project carried out research in 185 schools in Kenya to see if clean latrines, treated drinking water and soap would make an impact on student health and educational attainment. We found, when provided together, these amenities could reduce disease and protect the dignity and comfort of students.

Findings also revealed that absenteeism among girls dropped by an average of six days of school per year for each girl when these basic school WASH services were available.

Using these and other findings from the project, CARE and our partners were able to convince the Kenyan Ministry of Education to double funding for water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies for the nation's 18,000 primary schools. While still insufficient to meet all of the needs, the increase may mean the difference between whether or not a school is able to purchase soap, treat its water and improve its latrines – thus, influencing its student wellness, comfort and even attendance at school. 

Today, CARE and our partners are working with the government to raise awareness of the importance of school WASH, further increase funding for it, and help schools maintain these services over the long term. We believe advocating for government to provide even the most basic access to clean water and related services can lead to sweeping change, benefiting not only a handful of communities or schools but an entire nation.

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Girls drinking treated water during a break from class at God Abuoro Primary School, Chemilil town, Kenya.