Originally published on August 13, 2014.
Smiling joyfully with bright eyes, wearing a clean, blue freshly-ironed uniform and uniquely designed braids in her hair, Imamzadi comes happily to school every day. Her contentment is expressed through her glimmering smile that she carries with her at all times. She says, “School is home”. Things were not the same 3 years ago, and girls avoided going to school due to the lack of clean water at their school in Jacobabad, Pakistan.
Jacobabad is an arid area. There are rarely any drinking water facilities at homes or in schools. Most of Jacobabad district’s water under the sub-soil is salty. Some parts of the city receive water supplies from a central filtration plant installed on the outskirts of Jacobabad, and there are tankers in public areas, from which water is supplied to houses in water cans and via donkey cart. But, the process is highly unhygienic. Government Girls Primary Schools (GGPS) are also deprived of clean drinking water and most of the schools have no washrooms installed. If there are any washrooms, chances are there is no drainage or sanitation system, leaving facilities non-functional. The lack of clean water and sanitation systems in schools keeps girls away and disempowered in terms of education, which hinders their mobility and productivity. They fall behind each month, unable to make up the loss and falling further and further behind, until they finally drop out. This is a perpetual, vicious cycle.
In some ways, Allan Khan Jamali GGPS was better: it had washrooms but, without any water supply connection or sanitation system, it deprived girls of a much-needed bathroom facility. In addition, the school did not have potable drinking water facilities. For Imamzadi, 13, she struggled to cope with the learning environment at school, while also dealing with the social and developmental challenges of adolescence. “I would leave school with my friends to use the washroom at neighbors’ houses, and they always scolded us. It made me feel bad about myself.” It was part of her routine. Sometimes she would have to wait till she got home. She explains, “I would use the washroom in the morning at home and drink just a little water during school hours, so that I didn’t have to go to the washroom. I was always in pain.” The worst were the times she had to skip school during her menstrual cycles.
Thankfully, the school soon became part of Land O’Lakes International Development’s three-year Food for Education (FFE) program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During the program, Land O’Lakes distributed four-liter cooking oil bottles to schoolgirls as a monthly take-home ration for attending 80% or more of the school days in a month. The program provided an incentive to parents to send their girls to school, as cooking oil costs comprise a huge portion of their monthly food bill.
Land O’Lakes also realized the problems the girls were facing regarding water and sanitation. A water supply connection from the filtration plant was installed with a complete fitting for sanitation purpose. Electric water coolers were installed for clean drinking water, along with a hand pump and water pump, so as to ensure that students remained healthy and utilized their time at school productively.
This brought notable changes in the school. Imamzadi now comes to school with confidence and happy, without any fear or apprehension. “I don’t want to miss a day at school.” The initiative not only improved the lives of young schoolgirls, but also of female teachers and staff at school. They attend regularly, and can now drink as much water as they want.
Installing clean water points and sanitation systems has changed the lives of thousands of girls in the district. In the three years of the Pakistan FFE program, the girls’ literacy rate in Jacobabad has risen from 33.8% to 59%, according to Sindh Government data from 2012. Imamzadi is determined to continue her education and become a doctor one day, to improve the health conditions of women in her city. In addition to improving Imamzadi’s educational outcomes, this program has had the following impacts:
> Water supply connections are installed in 24 schools of Jacobabad city
> Hand pumps are installed in 159 schools in the district
> 150 water coolers with a 40-liter capacity were provided to 140 schools
> Out of 24 GGPS’ connected with piped water supply from central filtration plant, 19 of them have been provided with electric water coolers