A lesson in water and sanitation from a 34-year-old cleaner

 Water Sanitation & Hygiene
 17th Nov 2016

By Job Mainye, Knowledge Management and Learning Coordinator, CARE Kenya

Cleaning public toilets is not a pleasant task, regardless where you are. But for Janay Issack it is twice as hard. The 34-year-old mother of nine children takes care of school latrines for more than 2,100 pupils in one of the most challenging environments: in Dadaab, Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp.

Every morning, Janay begins to work before the school bell starts to ring. She grasps a broom, a bucket and a wiper around 7 am in the morning, right after she has finished her household duties at home. She is the only cleaner at Unity school, a CARE-runned primary education facility in Dagahaley, the second largest compound of Dadaab. On an average day Janay starts with cleaning the classrooms before she continues collecting garbage littered all over the place and finishes with cleaning the latrines. Normally, she has done all of her work by 9.30 am, but sometimes she needs to go back to restart cleaning. “My work is very tough. The pupils are young, they often miss the hole and just defecate on the floor,” says Janay. “Sometimes I end up cleaning the same latrine twice or even more often a day.”


Janay Isaack is one of the incentive CARE refugee workers. The 34-year-old mother’s job is cleaning latrines in one of the seven CARE-runned schools in Dagahaley, the second largest compound in Dadaab (Photo: Job Mainye/CARE)


In 1992, when Janay was eight years old, she and her family crossed the border from war-torn Somalia into Kenya in search of refuge and safety. As she grew older she married and started her own family, giving birth to nine children in what she calls home: Dadaab. In her 22nd year within the refugee camp she was offered a job as a cleaner with CARE. “It was difficult when I first started cleaning latrines. But I adjusted fast and now I started to love my job. There is nothing else I can do and I need the money to provide a better future for my children,” explains Janay.

For Janay it is not only about just cleaning toilets, it is also about helping others to prevent and protect themselves from diseases. “Most of the diseases related to hygiene originate from toilets. If school children are using dirty latrines diseases are easily spread and that effects not only the children, but also our whole community,” expresses Janay. “So, I always tell them: You better go to the latrine to ensure your family’s health.”

In 2016, CARE and ECHO have installed more than 1,400 new latrines and rehabilitated over 500 sanitation facilities in the two compounds of Dagahaley and Ifo I. Together with around 1,600 refugee volunteers like Janay they kept up facilities and therefore changed lives for about 140,000 people. “My life is different since I am working for CARE. Sometimes I see my friends borrowing money, others steal, but I have the job to meet my family’s needs. It is hard to get work in Dadaab, but I succeeded and I keep telling my kids it is because of my high-standards”, laughs the 34-year-old mother of nine. 

With the little amount of KES 5,250, approximately 22 US-Dollar, Janay earns per month, she usually buys sugar, milk and vegetables as well as cloths and exercise books for her children. “I can make a living in Dadaab. But if I had one wish for the future, I would like to have a proper training in cleaning and hygiene promotion as well as some gumboots and gloves to protect myself and work even more efficient,” adds Janay. To maintain better hygiene standards at Unity school Janay would also like to talk about her work with teachers and students more often. “The children are young and most of them don’t understand why my job is important for their well-being. I know that most of the teachers appreciate my work, but we rarely talk”, adds Janay. “Sometimes I ask children to pass me a broom, but teachers would stop me from that because they keep saying it is my job not the children’s. If I had a wish, I would like to ask for more awareness and support because all of us have just one health.”

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