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When you send your children off to school in the morning, you might worry about them forgetting their lunchbox or not having the right shoes on for P.E. But for the most part, you probably feel pretty confident that the basics they need to get through the day will be covered.

It’s easy for most of us in the United States to take our solid school infrastructure for granted, but that’s not the case the world over. Case in point: students in a group of schools in Tanzania were missing loads of class time simply because their schools lacked adequate toilets. Students sometimes waited in line for more than an hour to use the pit toilets, which were hard to keep clean and sometimes unpleasant to use. Lots of students opted to skip school altogether, partly because there was no good option when nature called. The lack of clean, adequate toilets was especially daunting to female students, and many of them simply stayed home when they had their periods.

Students using tippy taps to wash their hands outside the new bathrooms.
Students using tippy taps to wash their hands outside the new bathrooms.

So Heifer International stepped in. While Heifer projects have always centered on providing animals and training to boost farming families’ incomes, there’s always far more to the work than simply providing a few goats or chickens. Heifer is placing a new emphasis on making sure project participants have access to the water they need not only to water crops and animals, but also for their own health and hygiene. We’ve learned that water is largely a women’s issue, since women in developing countries are traditionally charged with fetching water, and women often struggle more than men to access the water they need.

And so, in the Mbozi District of Tanzania, members of the Mbozi Farmers Livelihood Initiative channeled some of their resources to make sure students in four schools in their region got new toilets. A total of 20 toilets were built at Shiwinga, Iwalanje, Isansa and Hatelele primary schools, with urinals for boys and menstrual hygiene management rooms for girls. With the new facilities up and running, grades and attendance are on the rise.

Isansa Primary School head teacher Abel Kajinga said he’s particularly glad the new construction caters to female students. “The girl’s toilet has a special room for older girls to protect themselves,” he said. “This has helped the girls not miss their classes during menstruation now that they have a special room for ensuring their hygiene throughout the month. In the past, older girls missed an average of four to five days of school each month. The new toilets have contributed to increased girls’ performance as they no longer miss their classes.”

Each school also installed clever contraptions called tippy taps, which students use to wash their hands.

Teachers at all four schools report better attendance, more studying and a jump in the number of students passing their national exams.

Mercy Nyanda, communications officer for Heifer Tanzania, contributed to this report.

Top photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

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