As the pandemic continues it has created unprecedented disruption to children’s education and wellbeing around the world.

Globally, 1.5 billion students have been affected by school closures, vastly limiting their opportunity for learning as well as hampering their development.

And whilst children in the UK returned to school in September, around the world many schools remain closed because they do not have their own supply of water; something which is easily accessed in all schools in the UK. Without water, regular handwashing, which is vital to help curb the spread of COVID-19, simply isn’t possible.

In fact, worldwide, 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools. More than a third of these children (some 295 million) are from sub-Saharan Africa.

The ongoing effect of school closures are likely to hit the world’s poorest children the hardest. Already, in sub-Saharan Africa just 13% of children from the poorest families complete lower secondary school, compared to 66% for the wealthiest (UNESCO, 2019). As the pandemic continues, inequalities like this are likely to be exacerbated.

“We can’t attend school as we must take precaution. Some students come from other counties, from far away, and we are fearing to get and spread infection. COVID-19 cases are still going up so we fear we may not be able to open again, and the children will lose out a lot... Nowadays we are in need of a lot of water as we are being told to wash our hands frequently. If we had access to clean water during this pandemic, we would be using it every day for drinking, washing our hands, the children could come back to school and we would be safe.”

Christine Silu, teacher at Nzeluni Primary School, southeast Kenya.

For girls, the situation is even graver, as they are even less likely to return to school after a prolonged absence. Whilst at home they are expected to take on more domestic duties, and may be more vulnerable to sexual abuse, pregnancy and child marriage, further reducing the likelihood of them returning to school.

Until these schools have adequate water, hygiene and sanitation facilities, many schools are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

In Kenya, we are working hard to help change this desperate situation, so that children there can return to school as soon as it is safe to do so. Together with our partner in the region, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), we are supporting schools to gain access to water, with the construction of water tanks.

Water tanks capture rainwater which falls onto school roofs. A typical school water tank can collect up to 104,000 litres of water, and they refill every rainy season, providing a sustainable supply of clean water on the school site. The water tanks require little maintenance and can last over 25 years, providing water for generations of children.

With water on-site, it means that measures such as regular handwashing and cleaning of the school premises can be implemented; both vital steps in ensuring that schools and surrounding communities stay safe.

“We have achieved having clean water here for drinking and washing our hands, now we have very few cases of diseases here in school. That water is also being used for cooking food in the school for us and even for our teachers.”

Rose Muli, pupil at Kyambaa Primary School pupil, southeast Kenya.

We also support Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) training to help students understand why good hygiene behaviour is essential, covering topics like disease transmission, and the role handwashing has to play in preventing the spread of diseases like COVID-19.

Beyond that, a supply of drinking water is essential so that students can stay hydrated, and with water for cooking and cleaning, they are healthier and better nourished, ensuring they have more energy to participate in class.

What’s more, if schools have their own water supply, it frees children of the burden of having to bring water to school with them each day; a task which can steal hours from their school day, and leave them exhausted and unable to participate fully.

“I’m very happy coming to school every day because I no longer have to carry water from home. I just come to school to learn and we have clean water already available in the school, so I don’t need to stress about where to get the water from.”

Kimanzi Mbevi, pupil at Kyambaa Primary School pupil, southeast Kenya.

It is projects like these which are helping protect children’s health and education; simply by ensuring a clean supply of water in the community as well as at home.

With your support we can continue to help more communities stay safe and healthy. Here is just an example of how your support could help:

£12 could buy 1 iron roofing sheet for a school water tank

£38 could cover the costs of sanitation training for the pupils of a school

£86 could buy all of the barbed wire needed for the construction of a tank

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our supporters during this extremely challenging time – for that we are deeply grateful. However, we still need your help to provide water solutions like this to more vulnerable families living in drylands. Any support you are able to provide today would make a real and lasting difference for generations to come.

Thank you.

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Kyambaa Primary School in front of their water tank, southeast Kenya.