Liberia: Payowi, Others to Champion Deplorable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Conditions in Schools

The Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI) in collaboration with two of Liberia’s women rights advocates and Feminists have vowed to raise awareness of the need to improve WASH in Schools through a project named and styled “Advocacy Action for Girls Friendly WASH in Schools.

The move follows years of entertaining complaints from female students on the lack of access to clean and dignified Water ASH facilities in their schools.

The group said over the years of working with school girls, through mentoring clubs in schools – one of the major complaints by girls has been the continued lack of WASH facilities in their schools – “Most times I do not drink water or any liquid whilst I am in school, so I don’t have the need to urinate, because there is no bathroom or a decent place to squat” one of the girls mentioned in a group mentoring discussion.

These accounts coupled with the identified lack of defined institutional frameworks and practices to address the WASH situation in schools drove both activists, Facia Harris and Hawa Wilson – Alumni of the United States Exchange Programs, Community Solutions Program and Mandela Washington Fellowship, to engage in advocacy and awareness activities to help bring relief to the affected adolescent girls.

With support from the United States Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund, the Advocacy Action for Girls Friendly WASH in Schools project aims to help improve the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) environment affecting the menstrual health of girls in schools across Liberia. The Project encourages schools to implement policies that allow access for clean and accessible toilets for students; enhance the understanding of the educational benefits of sanitary learning environments for all students and promote human development for Liberian youth through health and education.

The Project is currently working to raise awareness of the deplorable WASH situation mainly affecting the menstrual health and attendance of girls in ten (10) public and private schools in Montserrado and Margibi counties, namely: Duazon Public School, Harbel Multilateral School, Peace Island Public School, Upper Caldwell Community Public School, Soul Clinic Public School, Dixville Public School, Amos T. Tayboir Institute, New Destiny Christian High School, Rev. Mark H. Parker School and Gibraltar Public School.

The 10 schools were selected from a pool of 30 in the two counties that were assessed through a WASH situational analysis. Key indicators assessed were the availability of facilities for drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, menstrual health, and hygiene management, number of students, especially females, COVID 19 preventative protocols and waste management practices. Final selection of the 10 schools was based on their willingness for short-term improvement, drive for sustainability and eagerness to institute workable WASH facility-level improvement plans to enhance students’ access to better WASH services.

The Project methodology was grounded on the Liberia National Water Sanitation and Hygiene Commission Guidance on WASH in School/WINS and the international best practices from the UNICEF “Three Star Approach” as key reference materials.

An interesting finding from the situational analysis across the 30 schools in Margibi and Montserrado counties, is that, of the schools surveyed, both government and private schools are carrying on poor hygiene management practices with very limited access to water supply for use in school. This reinforces data from the June 2022 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report which states that only 50 percent of schools in Liberia have basic drinking water; 27 percent have basic sanitation, and there is insufficient evidence to get a picture of hygiene.

In conclusion, there is much more that needs to be done in Liberia School WASH sector to ensure the progressive and equitable realization of the human right to water and sanitation for boys and girls in schools across the country. This includes critical infrastructure rehabilitation, behavior change intervention, as well as advocacy and awareness programs.

The Project Team thank the United States Exchange program for the opportunity and support to contribute to changing the WASH situation for 7000 adolescent girls and boys while raising the profile of WASH access as a human rights issue, essential to retaining girls in school.

And also, appreciates the Liberia National Water Sanitation and Hygiene Commission for the technical support and coordination, the Schools Administration, students and PTAs for the expressed collective efforts and ownership in helping to improve the deplorable WASH situation mainly affecting the menstrual health and attendance of girls’ schools.

“The support and willingness from school authorities have been very impressive and with time, adequate awareness, commitment, available and proper allocation of resources, and the collective desire for collective change, the WASH situation will improve,” says Alumni Facia Harris who is also an International Women of Courage 2022 Awardee.

For her part, WASH expert and Mandela Washington Fellow, Magdalene Matthews, Technical WASH Advisor to the project highlights -that “while the Project Team aspired to reach 30 schools, due to available funding, we tailored our efforts to support 10 schools in developing facility-level improvement plans to address the WASH needs of the girls. Critical infrastructure upgrades such as water access could not be carried out. With additional support, we aspire to help realize the right to safe water and sanitation across the 30 high schools and beyond, improving WASH services for thousands of vulnerable Liberian girls and boys.

According to Hawa Wilson, the next activities are the development and launching of WASH Facility improvement plans for each of the 10 schools, while setting up monitoring and advocacy groups to support the implementation and monitoring of the Plans with consensus from the school administrations, students, PTAs and communities. Still, a lot to do, but we are certainly on track.

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