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In the children's best interests

"The children need water and toilets and we will not give up until the school gets it." When money is misspent, it must be reported.
Programmes and projects

In the children's best interests

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Changed: Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Much of Abdallah's life revolves around Kibera Primary School. It was here that both his children learned to read and now he is trying to make sure that his grandchildren get a good education. However, the school has not had running water for eight years and, despite promises from authorities and organisations, the toilets were never completed. Now, at last, the problem is on its way to being solved...

Abdallah Muhammed, 60, works as a financial officer at Kibera Primary School – the oldest school in the area with over 2,000 pupils between the ages of 4 and 16. Kibera is one of the largest slum areas in Africa and no one is certain how many people actually live there. Some say that it is around a few hundred thousand, others estimate the population to have surpassed the million mark.

Abdallah tells how proud his parents, who could neither read nor write, were when he started school, but admits that the commitment from today's parents is sometimes lacking:

"My mother and father really believed in education, whereas many of today's parents have experienced that, even though they went to school, they do not have a job or enough money."

A lack of commitment is, however, nothing Abdallah can be accused of. He deals with the boys bickering in a kind yet firm way, gets hold of the students who should be in class and seems to know the names of most of the students. The younger students come up to greet him all the time and you can see that they enjoy his company.

"The problem is that the school does not have running water. We have not had water for eight years and the students must bring bowls to eat out of and water to drink when they come to school. Despite this, a lot of our budget goes on buying water. Think about cooking food for 2,000 children every day without access to water," says Abdallah.

A local organisation reported the water shortage to HUDUMA (service in Swahili) - a pilot project that was started by the UN's Millenium Campaign in cooperation with UNDP and local organisations. The idea was that, by sending a simple text message, public services problems could be reported and the issues could be then forwarded to the responsible politicians or authorities.

When representatives from HUDUMA arrived at the school, they saw that it was not just water that was lacking. The inspection led to a further report, this time it was Abdallah who reported the unfinished toilets.

"The aid organisations only talk with the local politicians, not with us who work at the school. In recent years, contracts have been signed to build both flush toilets and showers but, when the craftsmen realised that the school had no running water, they dropped the project," says Abdallah, and points out three half-finished toilet facilities.

The organisations that financed the project had not bothered following up on the work and it was not until Abdallah brought the issue to light, that things starting happening. Now the school has established contact with both the authorities and the aid organisations and received renewed promises that the construction will be completed. Abdallah is cautiously optimistic:

"We just want the children to be offered the best possible opportunities and that the money allocated to the school is used in the correct way. Maybe it will also lead to the school's staff being involved at an earlier stage, as it is we who know best what is needed here."

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Abdallah Muhammed, Kenya
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