14 August 2013

Khuvsgul school children look forward to clean water and proper sanitation

Khaliunaa and Bulganaa outside their home with their parents
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
Khaliunaa, 13, and her sister Bulganaa, 9, live in Tarialan soum, Khuvsgul province. Their father Buyanbadrakh, 44, and mother Narangerel, 38, are herders living a nomadic lifestyle. They move several times a year in search of better pasture land for their herds. Their only income comes from their livestock. Life can be hard. The family live in a remote area in the north of Mongolia where the winters are harsh.

The family are in their summer home, a small wooden cabin on the steppe. “We have 500 livestock, mainly sheep and goats plus a few horses and cows,” Buyanbadrakh says. “In summer we live 12 kilometres from the soum centre. In winter we are further out, 28 kilometres away. This winter the snow was heavier than usual but we coped. We didn’t lose any animals.”

Because they live far from the soum center, the girls study at a boarding school together with other herder family children. There are three of them in a dormitory room: the two sisters and another girl. They arrive in September and leave in May. “I like learning new things at school,” Khaliunaa says “My favourite subject is Mongolian script. I like the way it looks, it’s very beautiful.”

Khaliunaa has mixed feelings about living in the dormitory. “There are many other children and we play chase and other games,” she says. “If the weather’s not too bad we can come home at weekends and during term breaks. But sometimes some of the children behave badly. There is no running water so the boys have to fetch it. The toilets are outside and a long way from the dormitory.”

The biggest issue for both girls is using the outside toilet block at night. “We don’t like going to the toilet at night. We don’t mind the cold, because we’re used to it, but it’s very dark and we get scared going outside,” Khaliunaa says.

UNICEF and AusAID’s support 

Staff outside the school, including school manager Oyun-Erdene (far left)
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
UNICEF in consultation with the provincial authority has selected Tarialan soum school, including the dormitory, for improvement by upgrading the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. This is part of UNICEF’s strategy to address inequality by targeting the most vulnerable children and communities. Tarialan is one of the target schools under the AusAID-funded WASH in schools and kindergartens project.

“We are planning to support the rehabilitation and construction of indoor water and sanitation facilities in the school, dormitory and kindergarten in Tarialan soum,” says N. Batnasan, UNICEF Mongolia Water and Sanitation Officer. “These facilities  will consist of hand washing sinks, indoor toilets, showers for dormitory children, connection to the water supply and a septic tank.”

It is summer and there are no children at the school. Staff are using the opportunity to prepare for the next school year and winter. Teachers have started beautification of their school, painting floors, walls and windows of classrooms so that they will look like new when children arrive in September.

The school has been open since 1939. It currently has over 1,000 students, including 153 in Khaliunaa and Bulganaa’s dormitory. “UNICEF has provided Child Friendly School training to teachers, parents and children,” school manager Oyun-Erdene comments. “We conducted an assessment of the school with the teachers and children. We found that the main issue was the lack of clean water. It has to be fetched, which is particularly hard for the dormitory children. Also the toilets are very far from the dormitory. It is difficult for younger children to use them in the winter.”

Home away from home

Dormitory teacher Erdene-Chimeg demonstrates the current washing facilities.
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown

The dormitory is a three story building, with pink paint that is starting to peel. Here too, staff have started preparing for the new school year. They have gathered rhubarb for making jam. It took them one week to gather, clean and start cooking the plants. In the kitchen, a cook stirs the jam in a large saucepan, collects the juice and decants it into bottles for drinking.

Dormitory teacher Erdene-Chimeg says that Khaliunaa and Bulganaa are very good students. She points to an award for best dormitory room in the foyer, with a picture of the sisters and their roommate. “The girls study hard and are respected by the other children and their teacher,” she says. “Both are very socially active, especially Khaliunaa. She is a member of the dormitory council and in the youth police. They have one of the cleanest dormitory rooms. Their parents have bought lots of furniture and decorations. It’s like a home away from home.”

During term time, the children wake up at 6am. They exercise, have breakfast and brush their teeth. “This is a problem because there are not enough taps and water for all the children to clean their teeth at once,” Erdene-Chimeg says. Then they go to school in two shifts – the older children in the morning and the younger ones in the afternoon. In the evening they do their homework with the dormitory teacher. During free time, they use the school hall to play basketball and volleyball, and to dance. “My main role as a dormitory teacher is to work with the children to create a healthy and safe environment in the dormitory.” she adds.

A fresh start

Khaliunaa and Bulganaa react to news of the planned indoor toilet
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
Back at home, Khaliunaa and Bulganaa are pleased to hear about the plans for new water and sanitation facilities at their dormitory. “I’m very happy that there will be running water at the school,” Khaliunaa says. “It means that the boys won’t have to go out to fetch water. An indoor toilet would also be very nice for us. We won’t have to go outside at night and we won’t get scared.”

The girls’ mother is equally pleased about the news. “I’m very happy that there will be an indoor toilet at the school,” she says. “We won’t have to worry about our children catching a cold any more. They’ll be warm, comfortable and not afraid .”

The author
Byambaragchaa Magvandorj is Senior Programme Assistant, Knowledge Management at UNICEF Mongolia

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