Raising the bar in school cleanliness: School Director Naomi

In September 2008, Naomi Elijah decided to follow her heart and establish a school. Her love for her three daughters had ignited a desire to establish an all-girls educational facility: Neema Girls Complex Centre.

Neema Vineyard School
School Director Naomi Elijah teaches pupils at Neema Vineyard Complex School

“In the eight years we have been in existence, our institution has experienced tremendous growth,” Naomi says. She began the school with just seven girls, whose parents loved the quality of education she provided. They suggested expansion into a co-ed school. In 2011 Neema Girls School transitioned into Neema Vineyard Complex School, which now serves 158 students: both girls and boys.

“It has been a journey of sacrifices and hardship for me,” says Naomi. She recalls 2012 as her lowest point because of the lack of toilets for her students. She had just relocated her school to a temporary leased area and was not in a position to build any permanent structures for fear of eviction.

Left with no choice, Naomi settled on a makeshift toilet for her students. Two medium-sized water drums topped by blocks of wood were enclosed by a sack cloth for privacy. To use the toilets, Naomi’s students would defecate on the “wooden floor” and then sweep the waste into the drums. Naomi worried constantly that her students would contract diseases from these improvised toilets.

While her students worked with what she had provided, she was never at ease: “My students were very young, and slipping into the drums was a likely tragedy.” As if that were not bad enough, the toilets were expensive to maintain; she spent 800 Kenyan shillings every time she hired frogmen to empty the drums of waste.

participants learning to use the 'tippy tap' handwashing station
Participants in WASH in Schools training learn how to use the “tippy tap” handwashing station

Naomi was constantly on the lookout for a way to provide clean, hygienic, and safe toilets for her students. She found it when she visited Glorious Land School and saw the Fresh Life Toilets they had installed. “I was surprised that these toilets did not have any flies,” she says. On inquiry, she learned about a WASH training for teachers that was being conducted by the Fresh Life team, in collaboration with WASH United. She immediately sent Mariam Osetta, one of her teachers, to the training. So far, Mariam has participated in three trainings supported by the Fresh Life/WASH United WASH in Schools program. She believes this program has greatly contributed to elevating Neema School’s cleanliness standards.

“Student supervision on correct toilet usage and hand washing practices is rare for our students. They have internalized these practices quite well,” says Mariam. She adds that it has also eased the work of the school’s Fresh Life attendant Valentine who no longer has difficulty keeping the Fresh Life Toilets clean.

Naomi is proud not only that her students have hygienic toilets for use but also that a broader culture of cleanliness has developed. “Our school compound is always clean, and our students are conscious of using waste bins as opposed to littering the compound.”

Neema Vineyard has benefited greatly. The registration rate of new students has been on the rise; prospective families say they are attracted by the Fresh Life Toilets and the overall cleanliness of the school.

She says that Neema has set an example in their community; Geotas, a neighboring school, has been inspired to acquire their own Fresh Life Toilets!

Naomi hopes to maintain these standards of cleanliness and hygiene and has her eye on a prize for the cleanest school at the quarterly forum held by the Fresh Life team.

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