Sanitation crisis at Chisamba School

PAINFUL EXPERIENCE— Girls queue to use a latrine

It goes without saying that poor hygiene and sanitation are drivers of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which is ravaging the country. To date, 50,000 cumulative cases have been registered since the first case was registered in Machinga District in March last year. However, as DEOGRATIAS MMANA writes after visiting Chisamba Primary School in Lilongwe, some problems are government-inflicted.

One-thousand-and-fifty-nine girls queue for one pit latrine while 1,010 boys queue for the other latrine at Chisamba Primary School in Lilongwe City East.

Those are the only two functional latrines at the school, such that learners complain that they spend more time on the queue than in classes.


This happens when classes are in progress, such that some learners miss lessons.

Some learners simply give up and stay in class with burning stomachs as they cannot get to the latrine and relieve themselves. Others who cannot control themselves, especially boys, pee on walls or in the maize garden right inside the school’s fence.

The girl’s latrine is almost full and the parents have threatened to close the school if there is no immediate solution to the crisis.


Worse still, there is only one water tap, which also forces the learners to queue for water.

Both teachers and parents are keeping their fingers crossed, praying hard that the cholera outbreak does not invade the school.

When we visited the school on March 1 2023, we found girls and boys literally queueing at the boys’ and girls’ latrines, braving the pungent smell that also haunted us.

Some learners visited the latrines without shoes and toilet paper, exposing themselves to great health hazards.

Standard 8 learner Anne Njazi, 12, lamented the situation.

“As for girls, we have one toilet. This affects us. We queue and we take a lot of time before going back to the classroom. So, we ask the government to construct new toilets for us not to be missing classes. All the toilets are full and we are left with one pit latrine, which is about to become full.

“We also need more water taps because we scramble for water on the tap,” Njazi said.

On the issue of lack of desks, she said: “As we stand up to answer questions, we expose our private parts. And, sometimes, we feel like not standing up.”

Her comments were corroborated by Iness Likaka, 11, another standard 8 learner who added that most girls do not come to school when menstruating because the environment is not conducive for them.

Another learner, Great Ziba, 11, who is in standard 7, pleaded with the government and well-wishers to construct proper toilets at the school to motivate them.

“As girls, we only have one toilet and, so, this affects us. And, sometimes, we do not relieve ourselves because the bell rings for classes while we are in a queue. We just hold it [the burning stomach].

“Here, at Chisamba School, the only classes that have desks are 8 and 7. Girls in the other classes face difficulties when standing up as they expose private parts,” Ziba said.

Ziba called for help.

“We need toilets that use water. I ask the government and well-wishers to come to our rescue to give us a conducive learning environment. One tap is not enough for all of us,” she said.

She also expressed concern over the lack of desks for the senior section, saying girls are forced to expose their private parts when standing up.

Another learner, Prince Adams, 13, said boys, too, have one working latrine and a urinal. He said boys, too, queue for the latrine during break time and lessons resume as some are still in the queue.

Deputy head teacher for the school Stophen Cham’bwinja said in an interview that he found the water and sanitation problems in 2012, when he joined Chisamba Primary School.

“Over the years, we have tried to clean the toilets but, now, we cannot and they are closed,” Cham’bwinja said.

He said the school has 14 toilets for girls and 12 for boys but most of these are not functional, such that the learners queue for those that are in use.

“Learners panic. Most toilets are blocked and latrines are full. Learners have difficulty helping themselves. With this cholera outbreak, we fear for our situation. The situation here is a recipe for cholera infections.

“Some girls dropped out of school and returned and we hope they will not leave again,” Cham’bwinja said, adding that there is only one functional tap for all the learners and teachers.

Cham’bwinja called for at least one borehole at the school to improve the water situation.

Explaining the impact of the shortage of water and latrines at the school, Cham’bwinja said: “Toilets are life. Without toilets, education cannot go on smoothly. If this challenge continues, enrollment and the pass rate will drop in all classes.

“Lack of water compromises sanitation. We do experience intermittent water supply and use the same little water we store in drums for mopping classes and offices.”

During our visit, we observed that after using the latrines, the learners did not bother to wash their hands.

Best performing school

Although the school is facing a sanitation crisis, it is one of the best performing schools in Lilongwe City, and nationwide, according to Chamb’winja.

Chisamba School used to be called Kawale Primary School before it changed its name.

It was established on October 3 1983.

When it was Kawale School, it had about 5,000 learners and was the biggest in central Africa, according to Cham’bwinja.

The school has produced very good results. For example in 2021, out of 278 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations candidates, 275 passed and 15 students were selected to national secondary schools. The school was the second best performing school in Lilongwe City.

In 2022, out of 210 learners who sat PSLCE, 207 passed and 13 of them were selected to national secondary schools. The school was also the second best performing school in Lilongwe City.

Currently, it has 2,069 learners with 39 teachers. The teachers comprise 36 female teachers and three male teachers.

Community reaction

Fearing for the health of the learners, parents and teachers formed a fundraising committee to get resources to address the water and sanitation crisis at the school.

Among other things, the committee organised a big walk on February 24 2023 to raise K38,680,000.

According to one of the letters addressed to one organisation for possible funding, the committee wants to use the K38.6 million to construct four pit latrines at the cost of K5.8 million; rehabilitate 16 water closet toilets at the cost of K3.2 million; rehabilitate and procure desks at the cost of K28 million and procure doors and frames at the cost of K1.68 million.

The letter, dated February 2 2023, is signed by the committee’s chairperson Patrick Mbewe, secretary Mercy Chiwaya and treasurer Simeon Msiska.

In an interview, Msiska said: “There are only two pit latrines working, one for boys and another for girls. All the female learners at the school queue for this one facility as most of the male learners are seen hiding behind walls to relieve themselves. This is risky to their health. Learners spend a lot of time in the queue and that negatively affects their performance and motivation.”

On the issue of desks, Msiska said: “So far, only learners in classes 7 and 8 have desks. The rest do not. This is a very big challenge for a girl child. Every time a girl stands up, she exposes her private parts and we, as a committee, resolved that girls should not stand up when answering questions.”

Msiska disclosed that while the Lilongwe City Council and the district education office approved the fundraising walk, Member of Parliament for the area Nancy Tembo, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, stopped the committee from proceeding with the event.

Reads the letter from the council: “We would like to inform you that the permission has been granted but on the following conditions: Make sure all Covid restrictions are followed and you give a copy of the letter to the officer-in-charge at the nearest police station.”

The council’s letter is dated February 6 2023 and signed by acting chief executive officer Vitto Mulula.

But Tembo said she did not stop the walk but spoke to the District Education Manager, shedding light on the sanitation issue and highlighting efforts she had taken to deal with the issue at Chisamba and other schools in her constituency.

She said she was invited to a meeting last year to discuss the sanitation situation at Chisamba School and, later, she engaged a city engineer who sent a contractor to assess the situation.

“The contractor indicated that he would need K9 million to empty and repair broken infrastructure. We did not have that money at the time but have included it among our priorities in the 2023-24 budget,” Tembo said.

Tembo added that she also engaged Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) which, she said, indicated that it would embark on a programme to empty toilets in primary schools as part of the cholera intervention.

But LWB spokesperson Chisomo Chibwana said the board does not have a specific intervention on the issue.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Mphatso Nkuonera said flush toilets at the school are blocked and that, as such, learners are using pit latrines.

“We have already identified a service provider to fix them,” Nkuonera said.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Abida Mia had no immediate response on the matter.

“Thank you for this information. Let me enquire,” she said.

Education analyst and Board Chairperson for Civil Society Education Coalition Limbani Nsapato described the situation at Chisamba School as despicable and called for immediate attention from the authorities.

“This is because apart from creating a sanitation or health crisis, if unresolved, the challenge leads to absenteeism, loss of learning hours and poor quality of education,” Nsapato said.

Nsapato said the situation at Chisamba School defeats Malawi’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal number four, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

He said the situation compromises quality of education and threatens lifelong learning opportunities as the environment does not motivate learners at all, leading to absenteeism and dropouts.

A district water, and sanitation hygiene (Wash) budget analysis and expenditure tracking for education for 2021-22 national budget, produced by WaterAid, shows that many schools lamented that inadequate funding was the main reason for the decreasing trend in provision of Wash services.

The report also reveals that most district water offices fail to implement planned activities because they are sometimes forced to divert the resources to lesser costly activities that were supposed to be implemented in the consequent months.

For example, Mangochi District, which got K183.6 million in other recurrent transactions, did not allocate anything for Wash but indicated that they intend to revamp school health clubs and train teachers.

The report further blames members of Parliament for not allocating resources from the Constituency Development Fund to improve sanitation in schools.

Wash Champion for Change Co-chairperson in the National Assembly Joyce Chitsulo admitted that, sometimes, legislators fail to give priority to sanitation issues and urged them to start allocating CDF funds towards Wash activities.

Board Chairperson for Water and Environmental Sanitation Network Yankho Mataya said Malawi is not serious about sanitation because 91 percent of resources that go to the Ministry of Water and Sanitation come from donors.

With the little funding the government allocates to the Wash sector, the country is far from attaining Sustainable Development Goal number six by 2030. It compels governments to provide clean water and sanitation to all.

Mataya said the Wash sector has a deficit of $50 million to its $200 million budget.

Mia admitted that the Wash sector is poorly funded and asked stakeholders to render assistance.

“If we get the $50 million to make it $200 million, we will be able to achieve of SDG six by 2030,” Mia said.

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