Supporting Education With Safe Sanitation | The Ismaili Canada

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Supporting Education With Safe Sanitation

Manavta empowers children and communities by building toilets

Malika Karim
Published September 30, 2020
Clean water and toilets at schools are necessary to keep the environment clean and kids healthy. Students enjoy a clean water source in Jholunge. Photo: Samagra Shah.

While volunteering at a school in Nepal in 2012, Nabeel Jaffer observed that many female students were missing classes without explanation. Digging deeper, he realized this was because there were no toilets—female students had to leave the school to relieve themselves in a private space, often as far as 30 minutes away. 

On the way, they had to evade dangers, such as snakes or strangers who might attempt to assault them. When they had their periods, they missed school altogether.

The problem is widespread: 20 per cent of government schools in Nepal lack water and sanitation facilities, with an additional 19 per cent lacking separate toilets for girls and boys.   

Open defecation and the use of poorly maintained facilities is prevalent in Nepal, where 45 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Jaffer quickly realized building toilets closer to schools wouldn’t fully solve the problem. Locals he interacted with didn’t realize the importance of safe and clean sanitation spaces.

After teaching in Nepal, Jaffer returned to Canada and completed a degree in education at the University of Alberta. During this time, he formed Manavta, an organization that promotes safe and accessible sanitation in Nepal. 

Nabeel Jaffer. Photo: Mica Prazak.

Manavta, which became a registered charity in 2015, aims to build toilets while educating and empowering local communities with hygienic sanitation.

According to UNICEF, 16 percent of Nepal’s population still defecates in open places, with close to 40 percent of the population—10.8 million people—lacking access to functioning toilets. Jaffer wanted to improve access to toilets and ensure locals understood the dangers of improper sanitation.

“Sanitation is all about behavior and how people use things,” says Jaffer. To tackle this challenge, the self-proclaimed “toilet nerd” used connections he had made while volunteering. In 2015, he set up a project in Jholunge, a community in eastern Nepal, where Manavta built three toilets and taught over 100 primary school students about hygiene and sanitation. 

A local college student, Amrit Majhi, helped translate Manavta’s message, explaining that, for children under five, diseases related to poor water and sanitation, such as diarrhea, are leading causes of death in Nepal.

Open defecation also has environmental consequences. Solid waste contains toxins and bacteria that cannot be broken down once released into the ecosystem. 

These deposits destroy top layers of soil and seep into waterways, where they can harm aquatic life. Manavta is responding to this problem with affordable urine-diverting toilets that separate urine and feces, producing fertilizer and compost for crops. 

People in Jholunge appreciate how the toilets produce a product that supports farming, their main source of income.

Jaffer is planning Manavta’s next project in Jumla, a remote district in mid-western Nepal, with his team of 15 members, including Ismailis Sameer Remtulla, Azmin Gowa and Faizan Muhammedi. There, Manavta aims to build a gender-friendly sanitation complex for over 280 students and teach them, as well as their families, about hygiene, sanitation, and environmental cleanliness. 

“I want to be able to empower more people in this country,” he says.


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Ismaili Canada. 

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