To kick off my main project with GDPU as well as this summer’s hottest new trend (accessible toilets), I traveled to Ogul Primary School to meet with the school administration and discuss the accessible toilet and hand washing station project. Located approximately 10km from Gulu Town, Ogul Primary is set back from the main road a bit and rests in a field of high grass. As you approach the school down a long bumpy red dirt road, you are greeted first by a large and shady tree.
This is the tree, Patrick (my GDPU partner) informs me, under which Ogul Primary School started. From that beginning, the school has grown larger with multiple classrooms, teacher and staff quarters, a head teacher’s office (doubles as a staff room and triples as a store), and a church. The enrollment for the school reached 560 last year but is down this school year to 375. An elementary school in Uganda is comprised of grades P1 – P7, at Ogul, the student body is made up of 188 Boys and 187 girls spread among these levels. Of those 375 students, 8 have a disability and 2 have a critical disability. In this instance, ‘a critical disability’ refers to a student who is not able to use the squat toilets that are standard in rural Uganda. Often times these students must attempt to go to the bathroom by putting their hands in the mess on the bathroom floor to support themselves. Seeing this need, GDPU piloted a project in 2015 to install seated toilets, handrails, and ramps for students unable to use the squat toilets. I’ll be visiting that school this summer to provide an update on how that project is going now.
Upon arrival at Ogul Primary, we met with Christine, the head teacher; the head of the School Management Committee, a representative of the PTA, and two teachers.
First things first – our tour began with the latrines. And no matter the name for the toilet/water closet/latrine there is a requirement that comes standard across cultures, privacy. Away from the main buildings, we made our way across the unpaved dirt and grass to reach the latrines. Pictured below, neither one of these latrines inspires a great deal of confidence in the ability to offer privacy for students. The girl’s latrine’s had some obvious structural damage, and the pits themselves were close to being filled. The boy’s latrines offered minimal privacy at best but were constructed recently and thus the pits could ostensibly continue to be used. Another glaring issue for us, both the boy’s and the girl’s latrines were not accessible to students with disabilities. To get to either bathroom, students had to cross unpaved loosely packed dirt and grass. For able-bodied students this would not be a challenge, however, for disabled students at Ogul this is likely insurmountable. According to the head teacher, as a result of the inaccessibility and lack of privacy of the bathrooms, many students have opted to leave school rather than face using them.
After the tour of facilities, it was clear that the school was in need of much more than the accessible toilets we are able to offer. However, our goal this is summer is to install accessible toilets for disabled school children and GDPU does not have the capacity to support all the needs at Ogul. So, after much back and forth and a very polite and respectful negotiation, we came to an idea.
The PTA will provide the labor for the excavation of the pit latrine with the oversight of the contractor. This will take away this cost from the budget, which will allow us to buy the extra supplies needed to build four toilets instead of two. Two toilets will be fully accessible and for the use of the disabled children who cannot use the squat toilets, and the other two will be for the use of the girls. Then, it is the expectation and hope that the school and parents will be able to use the materials from the old girl’s latrine to make the boy’s latrine more secure and private. In many situations like this one, it is all about creative solutions to make the difference needed.
The Ogul Primary PTA
This school, although lacking financial support, has the deep and inspiring support of the community and parents. Committed to making sure that the school and teachers are there for their children, they donate their time and bodies since they are not able to contribute financially to make updates. The community has previously come together to build the teachers’ huts so that they would be able to have a place to stay as well as already excavating for the previously built toilets. It was at their suggestion that we removed the cost of excavation from the budget so that we could build more toilets.
One last note, on the ride back to GDPU I reflected on my time at elementary school. I don’t know about any of you but I was the type of child who was too shy to use the bathroom at school. My shyness would’ve been compounded exponentially had my stall not had a door or had gaping holes in the back. A lot of frustrated and embarrassed tears would’ve been shed and I could definitely understand the desire to drop out of school when I was that age. Hopefully, our work this summer will help to bring some students back to Ogul Primary School.
Posted By Lauren Halloran (Uganda)
Posted Jun 7th, 2017