Latrine construction at Mhelule Primary School

Like many schools in the Kilombero Valley, Mhelule Primary School in Mang’ula has hundreds of children and only a handful of latrines. There are 688 students sharing only 2 girls’ toilets and 2 boys’ toilets, a ratio of 172 children per latrine. The latrine block consists of simple pit latrines about 4m deep.

MSABI is currently constructing a new latrine block at Mhelule Primary School. The latrine block being constructed will direct wastewater to a septic tank, and effluent from the septic tank to a mound drainage field. The drainage field treats the microbes in the effluent, and is required to be constructed within an above ground sand mound due the presence of a shallow clay layer at the school. Constructing this system rather than a deep pit latrine reduces the likelihood of microbes entering the aquifer below and contaminating the groundwater which is used for drinking.

Mhelule Primary School signs the contract for latrine construction by MSABI

About 10.30pm one night about two weeks ago, Naomi, Stan and I arrived by truck at Mhelule Primary School. The truck was packed full of construction materials and equipment for the project which we brought from Ifakara. The school is located approximately 50km from Ifakara (1.5 – 2hour drive on bumpy, dusty roads), and around 15km from the main road and nearest guesthouse. As part of the conditions for latrine construction, the school is required to provide accomodation for MSABI staff, and so Naomi and I were allocated a small storeroom next to a classroom. We had come equipped with sleeping mats which we laid on the floor, unfortunately later in the night I woke up to lots of little mice running around the room as well as buzzing mosquitoes. When morning finally came and we emerged from the storeroom we were facing a large group of students astonished to find 2 strangers had been sleeping in the storeroom and we received a lot of attention for the rest of the day.

Students outside our storeroom

During the day Stan, our head fundi (Swahili word which seems to be used for any tradesman), and our helpers set out pegs to mark out the structures’ footprint, and commenced excavating for foundations.

Running through the latrine design with teachers, fundi Stan and community helpers

This week the team has made good progress despite a few setbacks, such as the community helpers only contributing 2 hours of labour per day, and unsatisfactory sand (schools are required to provide helpers and some basic materials). Replacement sand arrived last Thursday, which about 50 students, at the direction of teachers, helped carry through the school in buckets on their heads, and the school hired 2 full time helpers to assist. The substructure of the latrine block was completed and the floor slabs were cured satisfactorily (although one now has some goat hoofprints imprinted on the surface), and were ready to be lifted by a team of 50 people on Friday. Construction of the septic tanks was well underway, and construction is expected to be completed within a week.

Students assist bringing sand to the construction site

The latrine block foundations and sub-structure

Students assist bringing bricks to site