Christina Chilvane is the Deputy Head of Unidade 16 primary school in Xipamanine bairro inMaputo. Teachers here have a demanding day: her school with only 6 classrooms eases 850 students through their doors in 3 shifts of 3.5 hours over a 12 hour day. I visited her school when they were getting together to mark the first day of construction for the school’s new toilet block. As part of demonstrating management models that share O&M responsibilities between government and community, this project was also feeding essential financial data into citywide sanitation plans.
Every member of the school’s Council had turned up to mark the occasion: the Director of the school, the Secretary of the Bairro, the deputy headmistress, a representative of the Fathers of the school, members of the health sub-committee, the school cleaners and a few other people I didn’t catch. I picked up on a strange sense of relief on many of their faces and the subtle jokiness that you get when they’ve spent some time with others in a team. Christina told me this was because of the many planning sessions and organisational meetings that they had been through together. Only some of these had been convened by WSUP, who provided training in health and hygiene, menstrual hygiene management, gender awareness, and financial planning, along with expected maintenance scheduling of the toilet block. Other meetings they called by themselves to ensure that they avoided what they had been living with day in day out for the last few years.
Standing there in the school yard was a broken water system. Not a big surprise, since school water and sanitation facilities are probably one of the most common types to fail in the developing world (interesting debate on the subject here.)
It was a simple holding tank connected by a pump to an over head tank that fed a handwashing station, the toilet block and a yard tap. No one knew the details of its demise as it had been like that for as long as any of them could remember. And despite endless calls for the municipality to fix it, their calls were never answered.
After speaking with a few of the school council members, I felt upbeat about the longevity of this toilet block. Quite surprising to me was that the school received two government employed school cleaners to keep these toilets clean. Christina told me that she made sure they did a good job. But if she wasn’t satisfied, did she have any way of reporting her dissatisfaction to local government? No, she simply said she would pull them over to where they’d missed out and stood by them until they finished the job properly!
They also received some funds from the local government for general maintenance about the school. But they knew this wasn’t enough, after factoring in the future costs of maintenance such as desludging the septic tanks, painting the walls, re-plastering, fixing taps, etc. They also knew about the cost of delaying these maintenance tasks, as maintaining a pump regularly was cheaper than replacing a pump early because of no servicing. They also received contributions from the family of each child attending the school – and any shortfall would be found from other sources. They didn’t know where yet, but at least they knew how much they needed to find from other sources. And this to me was key: empowered with this information, they were a meaningful voice to the local government who might actually stop and listen to this informed school Council. I was happy that they were aware of this before accepting what was in effect a maintenance liability for their school. They had made this rational decision for the obvious health advantages that this facility gave their children.
The tradition is to mark the very start of a new building project with a celebration. We gave a big “cheers” as the cork went flying from the fizzy wine – and it was only 11am!! I felt confident that this would mark the start of a long, well maintained toilet block supporting a healthy environment for kids getting a good start in life – the right of every child.