Childreach Tanzania and Fit for School

I had the opportunity to speak with Sheila Makindara, Country Director of our partner Childreach Tanzania, a locally registered charity based in Moshi, Kilimanjaro region. We talked about Sheila’s personal experiences of primary and secondary school in Moshi, with particular attention to her recollection of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) conditions at both schools. Sheila also shared with me the path which led her to her current role at Childreach, and what her day-to-day role entails. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more from our partner about our two-year Trust and Foundation funded Fit for School project, which African Initiatives launched in collaboration with Childreach Tanzania in June 2018. I hope you enjoy reading my latest partner blog and stay tuned for the next instalment on our long-standing partner Community Research and Development Services (CORDS), coming in April!

Sheila Makindara: School WASH Experience

Sheila was born and grew up in Moshi; when asked about her primary school, she reminisced how

“I never realised just how bad my primary school WASH facilities were until I progressed on to secondary school, which was a government funded school. At primary school stage, it was all I knew. I did not have anything to compare the conditions with. We barely had fresh water; in grades one and two, we would sometimes have access to water, but it certainly was not every day. Students were required to collect water from neighbours, and this was the case all the way up to completing primary school at 12 years-of-age.”

Following joining Childreach in 2010, Sheila has since returned to her childhood primary school to install a tap and storage tank so that the schoolchildren now have access to fresh, running water. In fact, with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, partners and supporters, Childreach has helped over one hundred schools in the Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara regions to provide clean water and improve sanitation conditions to its students and teachers, among other projects implemented by the organisation.

I wanted to know more, from Sheila’s first-hand experience, about the challenges primary school girls face dealing with menstruation when the WASH facilities are poor.

“I knew of a few girls in primary school who, when they got their period, could not come to school. Girls would miss three to four days of school a month and so fell behind their male peers in terms of attendance and performance. The toilets had an external wall, but inside there was no privacy whatsoever: no individual cubicles to shelter girls dealing with changing their sanitary products. Also, growing up, we did not have disposable sanitary pads; we only had fabric pads, and without fresh water to hand, there was no way of washing the fabric.”

Career Path to Childreach Tanzania

After attending high school for two years, Sheila progressed to Mzumbe University to study a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. After graduating, she moved to Dar es Salaam and worked in different administration roles for various companies, including Columbia University’s International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs. In 2007, she made the decision to enrol on a Master of Business Administration course on Human Resources Management at the University of Dar es Salaam. Following the completion of her MBA, Sheila returned to her home town Moshi and got married. Ten months later she got her first role as Operations Manager at Childreach Tanzania; she was subsequently promoted to Operations Director, and shortly after, began her position as Country Director.

“There are so many elements to being a Country Director!” Sheila exclaimed when I enquired about her day-to-day duties at Childreach Tanzania.

“The biggest part of my job is to look out for funding opportunities, to make sure the charity has enough financial resources to sustain its projects and staff. Another key aspect of my role is to make sure we have the human resources needed to successfully deliver our work. I recruit staff and ensure they are well equipped to do their jobs effectively.”

Childreach Tanzania: Vision and Work

Childreach Tanzania was founded in 2009 and became an affiliate of Childreach International. The charity works in partnership with public primary schools, and closely with local communities and volunteers in Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara regions to help improve children’s access to quality education, healthcare and child rights and protection. Its vision is ‘a world where all children have the opportunity to fulfil their potential in life.’

In addition to Fit for School, implemented in partnership with African Initiatives, Childreach Tanzania runs six other projects. This includes My School My Voice (MSMV) which gives children the chance to have their voices heard, to speak out about issues affecting them and to let the world know they have rights. Read more about Childreach Tanzania’s projects here

Fit for School (2018-2020)

Childreach Tanzania and African Initiatives first came into contact in 2016. Our Fit for School project, which was launched in 2018, is funded by Trusts and Foundations and aims to improve WASH facilities and awareness of water, sanitation and hygiene in three primary schools in Kilimanjaro region, northern Tanzania. It is designed to improve the health of 1,590 children by reducing the incidence of diseases and sickness caused by poor WASH conditions. This project is not only about health; it has behaviour change at its heart. Its primary goals are to:

  1. Improve knowledge among pupils and teachers of the importance of hand washing.
  2. Improve schools’ access to clean water.
  3. Incorporate learning about menstrual hygiene into primary education.
  4. Engage parents, education and health officials so that the lessons learned can be adapted and implemented by other schools in northern Tanzania.

“Our project focusses on the importance of handwashing with soap. A 2009 report showed that schools in Tanzania do not have sanitation or washing facilities. As a result, many children do not wash their hands because there is no place to wash them!”

Lack of handwashing causes stomach upset and consequently, absence from school. The root cause of this is hygiene.

“Fit for School is proving to be very effective and the feedback from both students and parents is positive. Our main focus is on installing handwashing facilities, but we also re-activate government-funded WASH clubs, which are already in existence, but inactive due to teachers not knowing what to do with them.”

Childreach Tanzania promotes seven steps of handwashing: wet hands and apply soap; rub hands together; rub the back of each hand; rub both hands while interlocking fingers; rub the back of fingers; rub finger tips; rub thumbs and ends of wrists. Children in our project schools are encouraged to progress through these steps while singing a one-minute song together.

“There is a lot of brown dust and dirt so we feel one minute is sufficient to properly wash their hands. The children stand in line in front of the facilities, mainly because we want it to be a fun and exciting activity!”

Teachers and parents also receive WASH training so that children are encouraged to wash their hands while at school and home. “There are less health issues now and teachers are telling us how children’s exercise books are much cleaner.”

Schools do not provide assistance with menstrual hygiene and so Fit for School has a menstrual health management component to it. There is a designated room for girls in the toilets which offers clean water, a sanitary bin and emergency sanitary pads.

Project Impact

Sheila informed me that this initiative is having a marked impact not only on girls’ self-esteem, but on school attendance and examination performance. “When the children are not as sick and if menstruation can be properly handled at school, the chances of progressing to secondary education is greatly increased.”

Fit for School aims to improve the health of 1,590 children, however it is proving to be having a much wider reach. “When staff members from other schools in Kilimanjaro region visit, they witness the renewed handwashing facilities and copy this model in their own schools.” In fact, according to Sheila, the Ministry for Education actively send people (often from outside Kilimanjaro region) to the three project schools to see the improved WASH facilities and to help spread this practice and knowledge. Click here for more information on Fit for School

Partner blog written by Holly Burchett, Fundraising & Communications Officer.