To mark World Toilet Day on November 19, a Global Youth Ambassador from Cameroon tells of a building project that will transform students' lives.
Let's imagine a world where more people have access to mobile phones than they do to toilets. The question is who: doesn’t answer to nature’s call each day?
The bad news is over a billion people have to defecate in the open. Why? Because they simply don't have a toilet available.
Women and girls especially suffer as they often get to sleep last and wake up first in the privacy of the dark in search of a place to do the toilet.
Globally, over 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have access to a safe, clean and private toilet - and most live in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia according to the World Health Organization.
According to UNICEF, over 50% of primary schools in developing countries lack adequate water facilities and two-thirds have no adequate sanitation, which are all basic things most of us take for granted.
In Africa, half of young girls who drop out of school do so because they need to collect water, often from many miles away, or because the school hasn't got a basic toilet. Lack of toilets puts women and girls at risk of shame and a target for sexual assault.
In my country Cameroon, despite the government’s efforts to put every child in school, the attendance rate is barely 65%.
Just 14% of the population have had access to improved sanitation since 1995, and just 19% of primary schools having a working toilet and 30% have access to tap water.
So progress is urgently needed. Through our organisation, HOPE for Children Cameroon, we have provided educational support to over 1300 children.
We are constructing safe pit toilets in schools to eliminate the practice of open defecation so that kids, especially girls, don’t miss school and/or learning opportunities, especially when they reach puberty.
Overcoming these challenges requires quality education. Investing in education is the most cost-effective way to drive economic development, increase skills and opportunities for women and men, unlock progress to all Sustainable Development Goals and is a broker for peace.
Investing in the health, empowerment and wellbeing of girls and women will unlock an untapped potential, create a ripple effect and yield multiple benefits for the individual woman, her family, her community and her nation.
In March 2017 we received a grant from The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, a charity that will be supporting youth-led charities and projects that provide practical solutions to local problems right across the Commonwealth from 2018.
With this grant we were able to construct a good WASH facility in the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Nursery and Primary School Tinifoinbi, in the North West region of CameroonThe overall goal of this project is to move people up the sanitation ladder by promoting safe hygiene and sanitation practices in primary schools - constructing pit toilets and providing access to water in poor communities in rural Cameroon so that every school child can stay in school and learn in an environment free from disease.
This school, which has been in existence for over 12 years, has never had a toilet facility before and the makeshift toilet was a hole with a hanging ladder, which the pupils held on to.
Several kids were reported to have fallen into this hole.
Parents are now convinced their kids, especially their daughters, will have a safe school.
This makeshift toilet was then closed and since then the school has been using the pastor’s toilet occasionally. For a while now, the school has struggled to raise money to construct a new toilet and, despite the fact that hygiene and sanitation is administered as a subject in this school, it was just theoretical with no practical lessons.
Constructing this toilet came as a huge relief not just to the kids, their teachers and school but also to the entire community.
We had a series of pre-planning meetings with the school authorities, during which we discussed the project design and execution and made plans for the smooth start of the toilet construction.
I must acknowledge that the support from the community was overwhelming throughout the entire process, which began in April .
Food was provided each day to the workers – most of them young people from a nearby technical school who were using this opportunity to develop the skills they had learnt in class under the supervision of a community-based contractor.
The community mindset has changed. Parents are now convinced their kids, especially their daughters, will have a safe school and many of the fathers have expressed interest in sending their kids to this school.
Teachers from nearby schools have expressed interest in teaching there and some are asking what criteria they have to meet to benefit from such a facility. Overall, the feedback has been so positive and this has been expressed in the following messages from members of the community.
Romania, 16, a form 4 student
“I am in the industrial section, specialising in building and construction and very happy about this project. It shall help my village as a whole, because this school has never had a toilet before. I am also very happy being part of the labor force in its construction. The money I shall be paid shall help me in paying my school fees and also in buying my working tools.”
Stephen, a parent in the community
“I have two kids in this school. I am very happy about this toilet project. The lack of a toilet has been the greatest problem. My children and many other children always had to run home when they needed to ease themselves. This toilet shall put an end to these inconveniences. It shall also lead to a big increase in the school enrolment. We lack words to express our gratitude.”
René, a builder in the community
“I really enjoy working on this project. I have learned new building techniques as a result. This toilet shall be a big relief to many problems faced in this community. We are indeed grateful to our donors.”
After a few months of hard work, the community now has a new facility all set for an official handover to the school and the entire community this December.
This new toilet facility ,which will serve approximately 200 kids and their teachers, is gender-specific and has a change room for girls as well as running water for proper handwashing.
One of the things we learned through this process is how powerful community engagement can be and what happens when we meaningfully engage young people in our communities, for them to take full ownership of projects and make them more sustainable.
As a global community, unless we work together to raise educational standards, the future of millions of kids will be wasted. This is something we cannot afford to risk.