19 November 2014

Proper sanitation comes to a countryside school

Khuliunaa studying in her dormitory, Tarilan village, Khuvsgul province 
© UNICEF Mongolia/2014/M. Byambaragchaa

Khaliunaa, 13, lives with her nomadic family outside Tarialan soum, Khuvsgul province, northern Mongolia. Because her family, father Buyanbadrakh, 44, mother Narangerel, 38 and sister Bulganaa, nine, are animal herders and move several times per year in search of better grazing land, she and her sister have to board at the local dormitory during the school year. If the weather is not too bad during winter they can sometimes travel to their home on the weekend and see their parents.

Khaliunaa is one of over 34,000 students in Mongolia who live in dormitories to go to school. Because of weather and long distances, many students as young as six, cannot live at home and attend school, so they live in dormitories next to their schools for nearly nine months of the year.

Recently, life at Khaliunaa’s dormitories changed dramatically. The outdoor dirty, cold, bad-smelling pit latrine was replaced with a shiny clean comfortable indoor toilet with running water. The stinky hand washing room without running water and that had a bucket for collecting waste water was transformed and now has proper, clean hand washing taps with running hot, cold water and a hand dryer. The cold, outdoor and outdated shower used to have only one functional shower stand, forcing children to stand for long queues outside in cold. This was replaced by a warm, clean, comfortable shower with three cabins and on each of the three floors of the dormitory

Khaliunaa is very excited about the recent upgrades at her school. “We have seen lots of good changes,” she says. “We used to be scared of going out at night to go to the toilet. Now that is in the past and we don’t need to go out anymore. No more freezing outside. Everybody is very happy and saying that this is great. We have a nice and clean toilet inside the dormitory. This is totally different from what we experienced before when we had to use the outside pit latrine”.

And it is not just students who are noticing a difference.

Khaliunaa is showing the new shower facilities of her dormitory, Tarialan village, Khuvsgul province 
© UNICEF Mongolia/2014/M. Byambaragchaa

Batchuluun, the school director, was very enthusiastic when describing the changes he witnessed in his after the construction of the indoor sanitation facilities.  “I clearly remember the day when UNICEF staff came to see me and described the plans for indoor sanitation facilities in our school,” he says. “I showed them a couple of classrooms which could be converted into a sanitation room. Back then it sounded unrealistic, not possible or like a dream. I couldn’t imagine how this was going to work in a remote countryside like our village”.

“When all the work was finished we received a wonderful facility which I cannot find words to describe. It is nice, clean, comfortable and sophisticated,” he explains. “Everyone - students, teachers and staff - are happy. Going out to use the toilet can be very difficult during the winter, especially for small children aged five or six studying in first grade. But now nobody needs to go out to use the toilet. We are very happy, now that we have a sanitation modern-city type facility”.

UNICEF’s Water and Sanitation Officer Batnasan Nyamsuren says with support from UNICEF, indoor water and sanitation facilities and septic systems were installed in the Tarialan village school buildings and dormitory. “A total of 20 toilets for boys, 21 for girls and one for children with disabilities were set up in the school buildings,” Batnasan explains. “As for the dormitory four toilets for boys’, six for girls’ and one for children with disabilities along with two hand washing tap for boys and four for girls. Over, 1137 school children are benefiting from the new facilities”.

The impact

Khaliunaa and Bulganaa are happy with dormitory’s new sanitation facility, Tarialan village, Khuvsgul province 
© UNICEF Mongolia/2014/M. Byambaragchaa

The dormitory environment has become healthy and hygienic. In addition to the new facilities, the children are learning new personal hygiene practices and parents are less worried about their children. Already the teachers are noticing a difference. Because the students do not having to go outside to use the toilet, children are more comfortable, safer, and the incidences of diarrhea as well as colds and flu have decreased significantly. Teachers noted that absenteeism has decreased noticeably, which they attribute to the introduction and use of indoor facilities.    

Nyamaa, the dormitory teacher was concerned for the children’s safety, but now she is not. “Some children in the senior years would say that they were going out to use the toilet and wouldn’t be back for a long time,” she says. “This used to be a major worry for me, as I was concerned about their safety. When there is some cultural event in the village’s cultural center, there are many drunk people around. Those days we had to escort all children to the toilet in order to protect them from drunk people. Now children are safe, all facilities are indoors”.

While the situation for Khaliunaa and her school friends has changed, sanitation issues remain a problem for many schools and dormitories in Mongolia. At a school in the neighboring village still has to rely on an outdoor pit latrine. In addition to being very cold, another major difficulty affects children - it is completely unhygienic. When children miss the hole designed for urine, it freezes on wooden slabs of the floor. The urine accumulates, covering the entire floor, making it not only very unpleasant but also very dangerous. 

Batnasan Nyamsuren says more investment in water and sanitation facilities is needed at schools across Mongolia. “According to recent survey data, more than 40 per cent of Mongolians do not have access to improved sanitation facilities,” he says. “We need to make sure everyone has access to improved sanitation and the benefits it has on health, dignity and security, the environment and social and economic development”.

Khaliunaa and her family were featured in another story by UNICEF Mongolia in August 2013. You can read the story “Khuvsgulschool children look forward to clean water and proper sanitation” 


Byambaragchaa Magvandorj is a Senior Programme Assistant - Knowledge Management at UNICEF in Mongolia.


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