Need for Interventions in School W.A.S.H Education andAwareness Creation:
Flooding apart, environmental awareness, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) education and culture this reporter observed at Evbuotubu Primary School is grossly low, a microcosm of the Nigerian rural and sub-urban situation.
Thursday, 27th September, 2012. 10:00a.m or thereabouts. Abies (not her real name) has just been asked out of the class. She had been down with illness and has not been in school for about a week and half now. Her peasant mother said the nurses at the health centre, (not too far from the school premises) had diagnosed stubborn malaria. But it looks like there is more to it than meets the eyes.
Abies managed to show up in school today but, midway between her classes, she began to throw up. The “Arithmetic Auntie” (subject teacher) had asked the 6 year-old girl to go out of the class so as not to vomit inside the jam-packed classroom, or possibly infect the other pupils.
She had barely reached the corridor when her bosom friend and playmate, Kate (not her real name) also in primary 2, saw her in an unusual position and gestured curiously. “… your belle dey pain you?” Kate queried her friend in pidgin English, meaning “…is your belly aching?’’ But Abies was busy battling for her life. She held her stomach a second time in split seconds and resumed her vomiting. “Doe o!” Kate quipped in vernacular, connoting “sorry!” “Your belle dey pain you?” She asked a second time, inquisitively. “No. E dey turn me and I dey feel cold”, Abies managed to reply at last but instantly resumed the battle for her health. Just then my camera’s lenses clicked to record the ensuing drama from my (investigative) hide out.
There is an apparent state of emergency here!
The rains this year have refused to stop and the daily misery, environmental, and health hazards and pains borne by inhabitants and indigenes of this large community and their immediate neighbors in Egor L.G.A. , Edo State, Nigeria, are now a normal ritual and culture of sorts; and if the predictions by environment and climate change experts are anything to be taken seriously, next year’s rains and its resultant flooding, erosion menace and health havocs should be worse than this year’s experience - just as this year’s rains and its resultant floods have eclipsed the 2011 flood furies in this part of the state. Alas! Here at Evbuotubu Community, the worst hit victims are school children; and unless something urgent and drastic is done now by all relevant stakeholders, the gradually submerged school buildings may soon collapse on the helpless children and their teachers. Or, at least, an imminent epidemic might break out sooner or later. Why? How?
Minutes earlier, I was heading to the office of the headmistress of the second arm of the school, to book an appointment. The office was in the middle of a block of four classrooms, and walking across the first two classrooms to her office was very revealing. Dutiful teachers were busy teaching and writing on the chalk boards or marking books on their tables while enthusiastic kids- some of whom sat on the muddy wet floor for want of chairs to sit on - listened with rapt attention while others were too busy copying notes to notice a visitor’s presence by the corridor.
As I approached the door of the school head, pungent smell filled the atmosphere around me. I looked around the erosion-ravaged premises and the large pools of water around, looking for any dead animal in the flood water. Just then I noticed at the extreme end of the building- about half a pole from the school head’s office- an abandoned school latrine overtaken by weeds and flood water; (obviously out of use because of the erosion, the flood may have washed ashore the faeces inside the abandoned latrine onto the surface).
“Good morning, everybody!” I politely greeted two elderly ladies chatting away in the office. “Please is this the headmistress’ office?” The fair lady seated at the far end of the room immediately responded in affirmation and reciprocated my greeting in a friendly and receptive manner, while her dark complexioned colleague seated by my right hand just kept staring at me as if I was a tax collector or one of those “area boys”.…
“I am a journalist… and also a resident of this community. I use to have my child in this school but she has passed out….” I began introducing myself and my mission. “I have been greatly concerned about the state of things in this school for a long time now but I decided to come and see what I can do to help draw the attention of those concerned in government to the plight of children in this school, even though I know there may have been various efforts regarding this in the past….”
“Did you say your child is in this school?” the fair lady queried me.
“She used to be in this school but she passed out two years ago and now she is schooling in Asoro Grammar school,” I replied and continued, “I wanted to see the Headmistress to seek the cooperation of the school authority to carry out some research and investigation on the way this yearly flooding is impacting daily on the pupils and their academics, and to ask a few questions regarding what currently the school has done or is doing to make the government speed up efforts to keep their promise….”
While her mate just kept looking at me as though waiting to cross examine me, the fair lady cut in, “Oh that’s good… you’re welcome. The headmistress just left some minutes ago to their office in town but she will soon be back. You can still speak with her (pointing to the dark lady); she’s the vice.” My God! The same woman, who has refused to give me a welcome look let alone say anything to me, was the very one I have to speak to! I took pluck, anyway, and eyeballed her.
“You’re a journalist, what kind of cooperation are you expecting from us?” she asked in an intimidating and suspicious manner.
“Well, I would like the school authority to permit me to observe the experiences of the school children under this heavy flooding they learn in and to take some photographs, ask you people a few questions – like how is the daily flooding of the school premises affecting the children and teachers academically and their health; are mosquitoes and other insects affecting the pupils and teachers in the classes as a result of the flooding, is the situation affecting the attitude and input of teachers to work as well as their health? All these will help me in my report about what is going on here in this school,” I explained.
“Have you been in this community or you just came newly?” the Vice Headmistress queried me again. I was yet to answer when she dropped a bombshell, “you see that I have been very reluctant to talk all this while, because it’s like you’re a stranger here. You see, I’m somebody that doesn’t like wasting my time in what will never work.” At this point I became confused and curious. Is she implying I’m on a futile mission?
“Madam, how do you mean?” I politely asked.
Then she opened up: “If you are old in this community you will know that the main problem of this school is the community and their leaders. In all my 33 years as a teacher I have been transferred to several communities. I have never seen a community that hates to develop. Here you have a problem that has deteriorated for several years, and yet you couldn’t do anything about it as a community, instead you are adding to the problems. All they are good and fast at is recklessly selling lands without considering the impacts on the land. They keep selling off lands indiscriminately….”
She continued, “Anywhere in the world whenever you want to sell community lands, you first of all consider three basic things: you consider school, market and hospital – these basic essential needs of the people. But here, the community leaders and the people don’t care about all of these provided they get money. And you were asking me, you want to find out if mosquitoes bite pupils and if teachers are comfortable working under this condition. I think such questions should not arise at all. From my little knowledge of elementary science, we were taught the various reproduction stages of mosquitoes breeding and multiplying and we were taught that pools of standing water is the breeding ground for mosquitoes. How much more this river and lake of erosion that has taken over the entire school compound for several years!”
“So, I’m surprised that such a question is coming from an enlightened person like you, a journalist for that matter. You also talked about how it is affecting teachers … you can see me now, I’m sitting here with hands folded. Because I’m feeling cold and you don’t have to be told that a major part of the reason is because the whole premises are filled with water. What do you expect? Anyway, we are willing to give you the cooperation you asked for but the headmistress, as you have been told, is not around now. Except you wait or come back another time.”
When will help Come?
The deputy school head may be right - as I later got to discover. The flooding situation at the Evbuotubu Primary School has entered its 12th year, but there is nothing to show that help is in sight for these children. Year after year they learn under mosquito-infested environment. Their entire school premises have been overtaken by flood and bushes. The school buildings are gradually submerged in flood water.
More embarrassing is the fact that without a single rebuke from any teacher or school head, these children daily urinate freely on the flood water and everywhere around the few plain spots of land that show up on the school compound once the flood water wanes a little; and they, in turn swim in the infected water, eat food and snacks that fell on the infected ground, and inhale all the stench and putrid odors emanating from the accumulated urines (and escreta) all around the smelly environment.
They have no access to drinking water, no functional latrine and no playing field for recreation. And because children MUST play, they have turned private properties in adjoining roads and people’s compounds around the community into their playing fields, and play with gadgets without any checks from the school authorities. Obviously out of the view and control of the school authorities, many of these pupils get injured in the process. They are badly-influenced and sometimes even bullied or abused with much impunity by some bad elements in the community.
The negative impact of the situation on the health, psychology, and self esteem of these children at Evbuotubu primary school in Egor LGA, and indeed the overall academic output and effectiveness of both teachers and pupils are undermined by the recurrent cases of pupils’ absentees, truancy, and illnesses like malaria and other water-related diseases such as that which Abies and many other children in the school daily have to contend with. Alas! Who really cares? And how am I sure I’m not already embarking on yet another “fruitless” exercise, as the deputy school head has predicted?
On Friday, October 11, 2012, I finally met with the Head Mistress of Evbuotubu Primary School. A cheerful, dark complexioned elderly woman of average height agreed she had been informed that a journalist visited the school and was eager to talk with her.
Without much protocol she gave me a ‘go- ahead’ order to carry out my media plan as, according to her, the school badly needed as much publicity as possible to draw fruitful attention to the plight of her pupils and staff.
Just then, almost without expecting it, she was on the hot seat in an unstructured press interview from me.
Q: Well done, madam. What is your name ma?
A: School Head: My names are Ogbomo Roselyn Uyi.
Q: You’re the headmistress here?
A: I’m the headmistress of Evbuotubu Primary School, Evbuotubu.
Q: Your pupils have complained that mosquitoes disturb them; that they don’t have anywhere to play; that they have no toilet, and they don’t have access to water for drinking. What do you have to say to all these, madam?
A: I don’t have much to say. What they have said, they are all true. We are appealing to the comrade Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, to please come to our aid here.
Q: What is the community doing or what has the community done to help you people here?
A: The community, as I may say, they have really tried their best to make sure that this flood is removed from here…So, a special appeal now, from the head teacher, the staff and the pupils, for the comrade Governor to please assist us. We know the work load on him is too much but he should please address our own.
Q: We hear that thieves break into your offices to steal things. Is that true?
A: O yes. They seize the opportunity of this flood to enter the school premises to do whatever they like. Because the school is lonely, there is no entrance; it’s not fenced and you cannot move round the way you actually want to move round. That is why all the people they come in when they like and go out when they like.
Q: So far, has anything been removed from your office by the thieves?
A: Ehn…it’s only when the water entered the office it destroyed documents.
Q: Now your children have complained they don’t have place to play. That’s why they roam the streets and spoil people’s belongings here?
A: Yes…yes…no playing ground, and there’s no room for sports.
Q: Is that why they always fill all the streets in this vicinity and play in people’s compounds?
A: As you know, children are supposed to exercise themselves round, especially when they are on break. So, there is nothing you can do to stop them from playing; they need it!
Q: Some of them said that they do urinate anywhere in the compound if they are pressed and that they go to nearby bushes to excrete openly when they need to obey the call of nature. Will that not endanger their health and their lives?
A: Ennn…there is no other thing they can do because once they are pressed they have to ease themselves. So they do it anywhere they like.
Q: And because there are no places here, you people don’t know what to do again other than to just leave them…?
A: Yes. There is no place.
Q: I hear that normally you people ought to be overseeing the children, to know their movements and make sure that nobody gets wounded or goes anywhere…but because of this situation you are not able to monitor the pupils again and they move around wherever they please and you are not aware of where your children go to.
A: We try our best to do what we can. Sometimes we run after them, we guide them to make sure they’re in.
Q: But so far there has not been any case of maybe… casualty?
A: No…nothing like that.
Q: Is it true that when the rain is too much here you send your children to run home?
A: No. We don’t send them to run home, we keep them in the classes. When the rain subsides we ask them to go.
Q: That could be dangerous! What if these flood-ridden buildings collapse one day under the rain?
A: We don’t pray for that.
Okay! Thank you very much, madam.
Need for Interventions in School W.A.S.H Education and Awareness Creation:
Flooding apart, environmental awareness, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) education and culture this reporter observed at Evbuotubu Primary School is grossly low -a microcosm of the Nigerian rural and sub-urban situation. Prior to speaking with the school head, I had taken a random tour of various classrooms in the school and observed there was no trace of any sanitation facility inside or outside the classrooms to help children imbibe sanitation culture. In a school prone to environmental/ health emergencies due to the perennial flooding, one would expect that the school authorities would be more concerned and alert to put certain measures in place to reduce the risk factors that may cause the pupils to easily contract air-borne and water-borne diseases from the flooded school environment.
Agreed, it may be the Comrade Governor’s duty to provide the huge financial resources to take care of the over- a- decade flooding of Evbuotubu Primary School, but is it also the Comrade Governor’s duty to teach school children the virtue of hand-washing, appropriate disposal of wastes around the school premises and the need to stop open urination at every spot on the school premises? The flood may be responsible for the lack of a functional school latrine, but the flood is definitely not responsible for the non-provision of waste paper baskets and wash hand basins in all the classrooms to inculcate cleanliness culture in the children even if their school is gradually submerged in flood.
Also, some members of the community may be blamed for dumping the various fetish items of religious sacrifices I was shown all around the school premises (which scares the children and results in pungent smells in addition to the smelly flood water), but who is to really blame for turning the front of the school -the only dry spot in the school- into a dump site where children also go to urinate, defecate and dispose of wastes? A huge waste-container, placed at a strategic dry spot in the school compound, should have taken care of this avoidable indifference to environmental sanitation for schoolchildren in an apparent emergency situation like this at Evbuotubu Primary School.
Some of the children I interviewed told me they have no access to drinking water. If the school authorities are well educated about the health implication of this, and the child’s human rights dimensions to it, they should improvise a means of making water available in small buckets and jerry cans in each class for drinking and hand washing. This is an integral part of the school system which I once experienced in my primary school days in a community primary school. All over the country today, these important WASH awareness and school environmental sanitation measures/practices have been jettisoned by many, especially in rural areas.
By FRANCIS UMENDU ODUPUTE 22 December 2012
In the spirit of World Water Week and its goal to foster partnerships, Francis Odupute of Nigeria, winner in the cartoon/photo category, worked with Janine Selendy, Horizon International’s Chairman, President and Publisher, during the week photographing and videographing some of the interviews she was conducting.
That experience led to a new long-term collaboration with Francis sharing his current cartoons and creating new ones for publication on Horizon International’s Solutions Site at www.solutionssite.org and for the “Supplementary Material” for Selendy’s book, ““Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions, and Preventive Measures,” a Wiley-Blackwell collaboration with Horizon International.
Francis Odupute is now also an artist for Horizon International.
All the photographs for the article are by Francis Odupute.