WSUP’s school programme in Mozambique: healthier kids and policy change

Themes: Community management Gender Health impact Hygiene Sanitation WASH Water
Countries: Mozambique

Since 2010, WSUP’s school programme in Mozambique has improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions in 16 primary schools in Maputo. Tens of thousands of children and their local communities have benefitted from new facilities and hygiene campaigns in an effort that has led to policy change.

On Thursday, the 2nd of February, 2023, the community at Maputo’s Artur Canana primary school gathered for a special event. Councilor of Education and Sports, School Director, teachers, pupils and community leaders celebrated the inauguration of new sanitation blocks, with separate structures for teachers and students – one for boys, one for girls, and another for people with disabilities.

Maputo’s new Strategy

The new facilities at Artur Canana are the latest accomplishment of a programme launched by WSUP back in 2010, in one of its first initiatives in Mozambique. Thirteen years later, not only has the programme improved conditions for tens of thousands of pupils, teachers and members of their communities, it has also helped transform the future of school conditions in the Mozambican capital.

In 2021, the Maputo Municipality approved a new “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Strategy for Maputo City Primary Schools”, for the period of 2021-2031, a document supported by WSUP and inspired by its work in schools in the previous decade. “The WASH Strategy aims at contributing to a quality teaching and learning process that runs without interruptions, with adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions that allow students to learn and practice healthy hygiene habits”, says the document.

“This is a result of the work initiated by WSUP”, explains Dinis Namburete, WSUP’s Community Development Specialist in Mozambique, who has been leading the project since its very first intervention in 2010. “It includes a diagnosis of the situation in the 101 schools of the city and the actions that need to be taken to improve it.”

New sanitary block built at Artur Canana primary school, in Maputo, and handed to the school in February 2023. (Photo: Dinis Namburete)

After providing a general diagnosis of the challenges, the Strategy has defined the minimum standards the 101 schools in Maputo ought to achieve by 2031, in water, sanitation and hygiene. In the specific area of sanitation, a specific attention is dedicated to female students and their particular needs.

“The school must have separate sanitation blocks according to gender, with at least a comfortable space for Menstrual Hygiene (MH) at the girls/women’s toilets (with privacy, water available and space to deposit used pads)”, says the document, which also highlights the needs of people with disabilities. Each school in Maputo will eventually have to provide, according to the Strategy, “[…] at least one unisex space for disabled people with limited mobility”.

The total implementation of the Strategy comes at a cost: 2.27 billion meticais (MT), or around £30 million, over ten years. This cost, according to the municipal authorities, should be shared between “four strategy stakeholders”: the Maputo Cty Council, the central Government, partners, and parents, as the direct involvement of the community is seen as important for meeting the costs of day-to-day maintenance of facilities.

The FPLM primary school, in Maputo, was the first to receive improvements provided by the WSUP schools programme. (Photo: Rogerio Simoes)

The first transformation

With financial support from different institutions, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, AusAID, WASSER FUR WASSER (WfW), and a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous, over the years the WSUP’s schools programme has built a reputation of transformation and community building in primary schools of the Mozambican capital.

It all started with one of the city’s largest and most central schools, the FPLM Primary School – named after the People’s Forces for the Liberation of Mozambique, which evolved into the country’s Armed Forces. “The school had very serious issues with its lavatories”, says the then Director of the FPLM school, Armindo Lissai. “When they [WSUP] decided to intervene in some schools, they looked at which ones were most in need of intervention. And our school was deemed eligible.”

Having been a student at the school before WSUP’s intervention, Dércia da Cruz remembers how challenging FPLM’s facilities was for the children at the time. “We were kids, and we would enter the lavatory and find a lake of wee, so we entered walking on our hills in those days”, she says.

According to Armindo Lissai, the problems at FPLM went beyond the actual conditions of the sanitation blocks, including also regular floods due to a poor drainage system in the premises. WSUP’s intervention started with the most urgent tasks, such as unblocking and replacing some of the toilets and painting the sanitation blocks. The team also fixed the flooding issues, by building a better drainage structure.

“Every year we used to have to repair the wall in the back of the school”, says Mr Lissai, referring to the structure that was constantly hit  by rainwater during the rainy season.

“After WSUP’s intervention, since 2010 we never had to repair the wall, as the new sumps are able to absorb the rainwater.” The work in the school left the community protected from floods and, most important, with much improved toilets. “We managed to have humanised lavatories, thanks to the WSUP project.”

The hygiene campaigns also had a lasting legacy, not only in the school but also in the local community. Besides being a student, Dércia was a neighbour of FPLM and remembers how the WSUP’s messages were embraced by local residents. “They [the community] acquired a greater awareness with regard to hygiene”, she says. “My parents had the opportunity to learn about the importance of hygiene with the campaign.”

Washblock at 25 de Junho primary school, in Maputo, finished in early 2020.

Expansion and focus on girls

Campaigns for the adoption of good hygiene practices by students, staff and local communities became a permanent feature of WSUP’s work in Maputo’s schools. Since 2021, they also included a partnership with AJUPIS, a Mozambican organisation promoting sexual health which has helped WSUP spread messages of menstrual health and hygiene to female students.

“When a girl sees that her school does not have the infrastructure necessary for her to manage her period, she will stay at home, obviously”, says Orção Muneme, activist and founder of AJUPIS. “This is something that interested us a lot [about WSUP]: this link between water, hygiene and sanitation vis-à-vis sexual and reproductive health. There’s a strong connection.”

With constant hygiene campaigns and regular improvements of sanitation and clean water facilities, the WSUP programme expanded to several educational institutions in Maputo. In 2022, the Artur Canana and the Inhaca Nkalane primary schools became the latest to benefit from WSUP’s work, which has so far improved conditions in a total of 16 institutions. All of them carefully chosen based on their needs and their importance for the local community. “They’ve been a diverse group of schools, the smallest with around 500 students, the largest with more than 2,000”, says WSUP’s Dinis Namburete.

Hygiene campaign for girls at the Inhaca Nkalane school, on the island of Inhaca, organised by AJUPIS and WSUP (Photo: Rogerio Simoes)

“The quality of the work is excellent. I’ve been following it closely since the first phase, until this final push, it’s an extraordinary work”, said Artur Canana’s Director, Titos Eugênio Macamo, a few months before the inauguration of the new facilities. He was particularly impressed with the metal grid protecting the water stations’ taps from possible vandalism and the steps built to assist kids from different ages and heights.

In 2023, the Artur Canana became what is known in Mozambique as a “basic school”, incorporating older students and becoming both a primary and a secondary institution. “The school is, indeed, in a phase of growth, and it needs a lot of support, of partners”, Mr Macamo said. “The arrival of WSUP has been very good for us.”

Reaching the local island

With almost 500 students, Inhaca Nkalane is the largest primary school on the island of Inhaca, 40 kilometres off the coast of Maputo and under the city’s municipal authority. Its Director, Marques Abel Tembe, celebrated the construction of new sanitation blocks, water tower and hand-washing stations by the WSUP’s programme, with funding from WASSER FUR WASSER (WfW), as additional support to improve the quality of the education in the school.

“Pupils will spend more time here in the school”, Mr Tembe said, a few months before the completion of the works. “There will be more time for contact between teacher and student. This will help the performance of both students and teachers.”

While WSUP’s work in 16 schools since 2010 has been pivotal for the establishment of the new policies outlined in the new Strategy by Maputo’s City Council, implementing its objectives in all 101 primary schools of the Mozambican capital requires a much more concerted effort.

The document lists the following conditions that must be in place in order for the initiative to be truly successful: “an effective decentralization and the City Council commitment for implementation; increased capacity of the City Council to mobilize resources; collaboration with provincial and national education authorities; cost sharing, transparency in management and fight against corruption; results-oriented accountability; coordination, information sharing and community participation; and good communication strategy”.

The City of Maputo intends to assess the implementation of the Strategy “through annual evaluations and a mid-term evaluation, after 5 years of implementation”, plus additional assessments “at the end of the mandate of the municipal authorities”.

Top image: New toilet block at Artur Canana school, in Maputo, finished in February 2023. Photo: Dinis Namburete.

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