Thursday, October 30, 2014

Did you go in the bathroom?

Just seeing the classroom won't give you a
full picture of her education.
For me, one of the hardest parts of living in a developing country is the lack of clean bathrooms.  Especially when I go outside of Dhaka, I limit my fluid intake to avoid the need to use a smelly, dank toilet at a gas station or restaurant.

In any case, one place where I always make a point to visit the bathrooms is when I visit a school.  And not the teachers' bathrooms, which are separate.  I want to see where the students, especially the girls, have to go.  There's plenty of literature that shows that girls' attendance is linked to bathroom availability and quality, especially when they reach the age of menstruation.  And it's no wonder!  Imagine if your child had to come home from school every time he or she needed to pee.  It's more than a little humiliating.
In many cases, schools have latrines but they do not have their own water supply.  Students take a bucket to a pump on the other side of campus and fill it up before going to the latrine, carrying it back past all their classmates.  Sounds fun, right?  Also great for hand washing.

Many schools in Bangladesh have one hundred or more students per teacher.
What should the student to bathroom ratio be?
The increasing awareness of the link between education and sanitation has led to a massive increase in attention and resources for school latrines.  But many visitors (especially those who don't work in WASH) overlook the bathrooms when they come to observe a school, instead focusing on technology in the classroom, or mentorship programs, libraries, etc.  I like to look at these too, and frankly I'm pretty squeamish about bathrooms, but I always stick my head in.  Actually I think my dread of gross bathrooms motivates me; I know how important it would be for me as a student.

I'm looking to see there are separate toilets for boys and girls, if they are clean, if there's a water supply nearby, if there's a trashcan for sanitary napkins in the girls' latrine, and if soap is readily available for hand washing.  It usually takes under a minute.  Maybe an expert would look more closely, but this is my quick mental checklist.  I'm amazed at how often schools have "just run out of soap."

What are other things that we overlook because we're squeamish?

Watch a video on BRAC's approach to improving sanitation at secondary schools in Bangladesh.

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