Visiting a New School Project in Rwanda
November 15, 2009
By Esther Nakkazi
On October 1st, I started as Water For People’s Regional Reporter for Africa. I started by visiting the Rwanda Country Program, and as the month continued, I learned more about it and began reporting on the Uganda and Malawi programs, as well.
My first day in Kigali, I set off on a field visit to the Cyinzuzi Sector of Rulindo District. Rulindo is in the northern part of Rwanda. Although it probably could have taken 1-2 hours on a smooth road, it was such a bumpy ride, winding around the “1,000 hills” of Rwanda that it took far longer—about 3 hours.
The field visit team was big. It included members from Water For People–Rwanda’s partners, including the Ministry of Natural Resource (MINIRENA) and the Ministry of Infrastructure (MINIFRA), Rwanda Environmental Care (REC), and the Association of Friends of Nature (ANA).
Cyinzuzi is remote, densely populated and poor. Although surface water is available, access to safe water is the challenge. The water sources are miles away; at every turn young children and women could be seen carrying water to their homes.
Finally, we arrived at Karambo B Primary School. It was break time, and almost all the students advanced towards the cars.
Water For People–Rwanda and its partner, Association of Friends for Nature (ANA), have built a rainwater-harvesting tank at this school, which has a student body of 1,000 students. The technology used for the tank was from Germany and at least 90 percent of the materials used were locally sourced.
When the tank at Karambo B was being built most of the kids spent their break time watching the builders. The parents were involved too. They hauled rocks, which are plentiful in this hilly area, and water to mix with the sand and cement.
When we visited, it was a week after the tank was constructed. The tank was completed just in time for the rainy season to start. It will take about four heavy showers for the rainwater tank to fill. The head teacher said that the water will mainly be used for hand washing after the students and teachers come from the toilet. It will also be used to mop the cement floors in the classrooms and to water flower gardens at the school.
Water For People–Rwanda is also engaged in improving the school’s sanitation through use of ecological sanitation (composting latrines). Ecological sanitation (or EcoSan) is new to the area. One of the ministry partners in my vehicle confessed that he had not seen them anywhere before even though he is widely traveled in Africa.
The EcoSan latrines that are being built at Karombe B Primary School work by separating urine and feces. The urine is collected and can be used on crops to provide extra nutrients. The solid waste is collected in a pit. After each use, students and teachers will add a handful of ash and a handful of dirt, which helps to dry the contents, improves the chemical composition, and has the added bonus of eliminating the smell and keeping flies away. Furthermore, the ash serves as visible dirt on the students’ hands, which will encourage them to wash their hands after using the latrines.
When the pit is full, it is closed and the contents are allowed to breakdown and become compost. During the process, heat is generated, which kills any pathogens in the contents. The end result is a safe, nutrient-rich fertilizer.
With the terrain and fertilizer needs of this largely agricultural area, EcoSan latrines could be the solution to the school’s problem of not having enough latrines for the school population, while also giving the option to either sell the compost or to use it on the school garden, which is used to supplement school lunches.
The ecological toilets are being built adjacent the school’s current pit latrines, which are almost full. Once the new latrines are complete, the old latrines will either be desludged or shut down. While the ecological toilets are more expensive to install than traditional pit latrines, they will be cheaper in the long run because they are easily emptied and therefore the school will never need to rebuild them.
The ecological toilet block will also have a shower for the girls to use when they are menstruating. Currently, when they have their periods, the girls often skip school because the old pit latrines don’t provide them any way to clean themselves. The shower will give them a place where they can wash themselves in privacy, and will hopefully encourage them to attend school every week of the month.
When we were finished with our visit to Karambo B, we moved on to our second school of the day. On the way to the Cyinzuzi Primary School, the road ended, and so we abandoned the cars to move on through the creek and up the hill on foot.
Water For People and our partners have built two rainwater tanks and renovated a third at this school. Additionally, ecological toilets are being built and are nearly finished. The school, with a capacity of 900 pupils and about 50 staff members, only had three latrines, which are now full and smelly. The head teacher here says he is excited about the 10 EcoSan units that are being built. He is going to use the Karambo B headmaster’s strategy of asking pupils to carry ash to school.
The latrine block is almost complete and quite neat. The Primary 3 English teacher tells us that school’s administration is excited about the new latrines, and they are looking forward to the day they will be complete. The administration has plans to seal the old latrines to make them into a shower for the girls to use during menstruation. I liked hearing their thoughts, and thought it was interesting that different schools are implementing the same solutions in different ways.
What do you think?