Washing Facilities Support Safe and Nutritious School Meals for Children in Rwanda

While COVID-19 forced students to stay at home, Rwandan schools supported by the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme built new water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in partnership with World Vision International

Ruhinga Primary School’s new latrines in southern Rwanda were built with the support of the United States Department of Agriculture as part of a wide-ranging initiative to provide new facilities for schools supported by WFP’s Home-Grown School Feeding programme. Photo: WFP/Daniel Kibsgaard

Story by Daniel Kibsgaard

Providing new water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and other support at schools in Rwanda are part of WFP’s Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) holistic approach to improve educational outcomes and bring about changes in the wider community to reinforce safe and nutritious eating habits.

This feeds into the government’s scale-up of school feeding across the country.

Some 600,000 students receive meals through school feeding supported by the Government of Rwanda. WFP’s HGSF programme in turn supports the Government to provide daily nutritious school meals and complementary activities for 79,000 primary schools students in 107 schools in four of the most vulnerable and food-insecure districts across the country.

A 2017 cost-benefit analysis of the programme showed that every US$1 invested brought an economic return of US$4.80 from improved health, education and productivity.

Thanks to the generous support from the United States Department of Agriculture, schools assisted by HGSF are also constructing a broad range of new facilities. Ruhinga, Bwama and Kibirizi Primary Schools in southern Rwanda built new kitchens, latrines, hand washing stations, girls’ sanitary rooms, seed gardens and connections to water pipes to significantly improve capacities to provide sanitary and nutritious meals for students.

These renovations took place largely while schools across Rwanda were closed to students from mid-March through October 2020 due to measures put in place by the Government to control the spread of COVID-19.

In July 2020, the government committed to scaling up school feeding from 600,000 to more than 3.2 million pre-, primary and secondary students across Rwanda. This scale-up includes the construction of new school kitchens and stoves in over 2,600 primary schools as well as hand washing stations in over 1,300 schools. WFP provides technical support to the government.

Break with the past to build futures

Felicien Rwatangaro, a cook at Kibirizi Primary School, is relieved to have a new kitchen to prepare meals for students, now they are beginning to return back to school. “As a parent myself, it makes me so happy to be able to support the school as well as my own child with nutritious meals. The new kitchen will ensure that the food is prepared in a more sanitary and hygienic way.”

The dirt floor in the old kitchen was difficult to clean, and the open fire put Felicien and colleagues at risk of burns while poor ventilation resulted in smoke filling up the room causing headaches and irritation in their eyes.

The schools will also save a significant amount of money and greatly reduce the amount of firewood required to cook with the installation of new fuel-efficient stoves. Kibirizi Primary School expects to cut what is typically spent on firewood by 50 percent from US$918 per year. This will free up funding for other school activities.

A comprehensive package

New latrines and handwashing stations improve schools’ hygiene, particularly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic now that students across Rwanda are returning. Ruhinga Primary School has more than doubled its number of latrines from 12 to 26, including one for disabled students. This significantly cuts waiting time for the 472 students.

“Now that toilets are separated by gender, girls will feel much safer going to the bathroom” said Viateur Bizumuremyi, Head Teacher of Ruhinga Primary School. “The new handwashing stations will also encourage better hygiene after using the latrines and before eating meals at school in addition to helping promote these practices at home.”

Girls’ rooms and clean drinking water

In addition, girls’ rooms were constructed in 33 HGSF-supported schools, providing a private space for female students to shower and change sanitary pads without fear of embarrassment in front of peers during menstruation.

Many teenage girls in Rwanda stay at home one or two days each month during their periods as schools often lack a private and sanitary place. The girls’ rooms represent a broader effort of the HGSF programme to increase regular attendance at school and improve school sanitation measures.

In addition, teachers are trained on how to provide guidance to female students on what to expect from menstruation and how to handle these challenges. “I am very thankful for the girl’s room as it will provide my 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, with a safe and sanitary place during her period. Now she can stay at school and enjoy greater privacy,” said Seraphine Mukanyarwaya, a mother of a student attending Bwama Primary School.

Prior to the recent renovations, 32 percent of supported schools did not have access to running water. Now with the support of the HGSF programme, 20 schools now have direct water pipeline access. This will not only enable better access for students to fresh drinking water but will also support access for the surrounding community, improving overall health and hygiene.

Without access to drinking water, many schools in Rwanda asked students bring water each day for drinking and for the preparation of school meals.

“Some children woke up as early as 5:30 to first walk an hour to fetch water and go back home before spending another 25 minutes walking to school,” said Vanantie Mukahigiro, Head Teacher of Kibirizi Primary School.

The new water pipeline connection at Kibirizi is expected to drastically reduce the time students spend walking to school and to greatly improve attendance and reduce tardiness among students who might have otherwise had longer commutes to fetch water.

Benefits of the new water pipeline facilities are not only felt at school but across the wider community. In Dunhunga Cell, the area surrounding Ruhinga Primary School, more than 4,000 people also benefitted from the connection of the water pipeline to the school.

“The pipeline will bring about an overall improvement in community health as our water used to come from marshlands that were contaminated with worms resulting in frequent illness among community members. We hope to expand the pipeline to the rest of the community” said Evariste Murangira, Executive Secretary of Dunhunga Cell.

To improve nutrition among students at HGSF schools, kitchen gardens were established as a way for children to learn more about good nutrition habits.

Seeds to grow better nutrition

Seeds grown in the Kibirizi Primary School’s kitchen garden are shared with parents to ensure nutritious meals at home as well as in school. Photo: WFP/Vanantie Mukahigiro

Primary schools like Kibirizi share seedlings grown in their new kitchen gardens with parents, allowing them to grow vegetables at home as well.

Seedling sharing with families was particularly welcomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many families in vulnerable areas across Rwanda where the programme is implemented experienced significant economic shocks.

“We were so thankful to receive the seedlings from the school garden as they allowed us to prepare nutritious food at home at a difficult time,” said Anastase Nsanzimana, president of Kibirizi Primary School parent teacher association.

Since the start of the programme in 2016, regular attendance in HGSF-supported schools has risen from 92 to 95 percent and student absenteeism due to illness has reduced from seven percent to less than one percent.

Bwama Primary School has recorded a decline in student dropouts from 10 to 2 percent in the same period. New WASH facilities will further entrench gains made in recent years. With improved water, sanitation and hygiene, HGSF-supported schools can ensure school meals are safe and boost educational outcomes.

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