Joyce Mutunga, a class three pupil at Mwanyambo Primary School in Kenya’s Voi Sub-county, used to dread going to school. She has been living with disabilities since birth and uses a wheelchair – but the school had no modifications to make it accessible for her.

“I am not capable of rushing to use the latrines like the other pupils every break time,” she said. “It was a matter of ‘first come first served’ and I wasn’t lucky enough to use the facilities at other times because of the long queues.

“On a number of occasions, when I was finally able to use the latrine, I would come back to class and find the teacher already in the classroom and teaching. This made me miss a lot and I lagged behind in my studies.”

The situation also caused her abdominal pain and embarrassment: “The design of the latrines was not disability-friendly, and I would sometimes fall when using them. There was no privacy for me and some mischievous pupils would stare at me as I struggled to use the toilet.”

This was a daily ordeal for Joyce – until the Kenya Red Cross visited the school to build a new accessible latrine and hand-washing facility for students with disabilities, alongside another four-unit latrine block for all pupils.

“I no longer miss lessons because of waiting for long queues, no more falling in the latrine, and no more abdominal pains and constipation,” said Joyce. “My health and my studies have greatly improved.”

This initiative is part of the WASH in Kenya Project, which aims to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) alongside improved access to irrigation and nutrition services. The Kenya Red Cross is working with public and private partners to deliver the initiative in vulnerable communities in several Counties and also in Dadaab Refugee Camp. These communities include many people living with disabilities, who need more attention and dedication when it comes to the provision of WASH services.

The WASH in Kenya project currently being implemented in Ganze-Bamba in Kilifi County has supported the construction of ten latrine facilities that are gender and disability appropriate, equipped with hand-washing facilities, and provide a safe and private space for girls who are menstruating. It is estimated that girls can lose 10-20 per cent of their school time during their menstruation, and it is hoped that this project will help girls and disabled students make the most of their school time.

In Taita Taveta County, nine new latrines have been constructed in eight primary schools, and water filters have been provided for 11 schools. This was to improve individual hygiene among pupils, improve access to safe and clean drinking water, and generally contribute to improving the children’s health.

According to the World Health Organization, about 15 per cent of the world’s population are living with disabilities, of whom 2-4 per cent experience significant difficulties in their day to day lives. Persons with disabilities are deemed to be the largest minority population in the world, especially in the developing countries.