Helping girls stay in school in Vanuatu

By CARE Australia

Schoolgirls in Tanna wash their hands at a new handwashing station installed by CARE. CARE has also installed toilets which include private washing facilities so schoolgirls can manage their menstrual hygiene in private. (Photo:Julian Tung/CARE)


On the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, CARE has spoken with school girls about the challenges that keep them away from school.

One reason may be a surprise: toilets!

Not having a clean and private toilet is a major concern for girls, particularly when they are menstruating, during which time, many will stay at home rather than choosing to deal with the challenges of having to wash and maintain hygiene in the school toilets.

In partnership with UNICEF, CARE has selected 13 schools for sanitation improvements in Tanna this year, with a further 12 schools in Tanna and the outer islands of Tafea province to follow next year. All up, over 2,200 children will have their sanitation facilities improved to ensure that school toilets are clean, safe and private spaces.

Before construction, girls were asked to describe what they do not like about their current sanitation facilities and were asked to draw their “perfect” toilet to stimulate discussion around girls’ sanitation and hygiene needs. This led to the simple but revolutionary idea of changing the design of the girls’ toilets to include a private washing area with a tap, drain, bucket and soap inside the toilet block rather than outside, so now girls can manage their menstrual hygiene in private.

In addition, girls decided on where the safest place for their new toilets would be. Each school has received two new separate male and female “Ventilated Improved Pit Latrines” or VIP toilets!

CARE is supporting the communities to install handwashing facilities at school toilets, as well as providing soap and locally-made, reusable sanitary items.

Girls and boys are being taught about each other’s needs, and to keep the messages of health and hygiene flowing, students are encouraged to become “hygiene champions”.

Girls now feel they can come to school knowing they have a clean, private, safe toilet to use, and talking about managing their menstrual hygiene is becoming less of a taboo.

Click here to learn more about CARE’s work in water and sanitation.