Public schools of stench
As you walk towards the tiny concrete buildings behind a long block of classrooms, a foul odor hits you square in the face. A small cloud of well-fed flies swarm disgustingly around you.
Another swarm of flies land in your mouth, nose, and hand as you knock on one of the rickety doors to make sure no one is inside.
You suddenly find yourself struggling to stifle a vomit as the gastric muscles in your stomach give way.
Inside the small partitioned rooms, there are several cakes of both fresh and dry excrement. A larger swarm of flies and a group of lizards are feasting on the excreta.
And you begin to wonder how people manage to relieve themselves and meet their basic needs for convenience in such an unkempt environment.
However, this is a picture of the majority of the toilets in Akwa Ibom State public schools which expert say pose serious risk of infection to students, especially the female.
During weeks of investigation by our correspondent, it was found that female students in most public schools in Akwa Ibom are at risk of infection due to deteriorating state of toilet facilities.
While the situation in some of the schools in the urban centres is a bit tolerable, those in the rural areas can best be described as outrightly disgusting.
For instance, Community Secondary Commercial School- Itam should be one of the oldest and well-run public schools in the state.
Surprisingly, however, the toilets in the institution are dirty, smelly and unsuitable for use by students and staff.
If the toilets that are located within Uyo Metropolis can be that bad, then the situation of schools located in rural areas can best be imagined.
To ascertain the state of the conveniences in other schools within and outside the city, our correspondent took a trip to many public schools.
At the Christian Secondary Commercial School and Comprehensive Secondary School, Four Towns both located within Uyo Metropolis, the situation was good but students said it could be better.
Female students who spoke to our correspondent but pleaded not to be named for fear of sanction; said most of them do not use the conveniences in their schools.
A student at the Christian Secondary School, Mma-Nne (not her real name) said the rather go to the nearby bush whenever she needs to attend to her menstrual concerns.
“The toilets in the school are not clean and one may contract a disease and that is why many of the girls here prefer changing their pads and sanitary towels in the bush,” she said.
At the Comprehensive Secondary School, Four Towns, a student who gave her name simply as Unawo said they do not use the school toilets to change their menstrual pads.
She told our correspondent, “Many of the girls wait till they get home before they change their pads and even many of the boys don’t use the school toilet. Guys urinate in the bush or other places where they can’t be seen.”
Many students of Ibesikpo Secondary School, Nung Udoe, Ibesikpo Asutan local government area, said they do not use the school toilets with a few saying they only visit the convenience during punishment.
“I only go to the school toilet when I am made to wash it as a punishment for breaking the school rules,” a student had told our correspondent.
At the Comprehensive Secondary School, Ikot Akpa Etok in Ibesikpo Asutan, our correspondent said the entire school is so decrepit that it is no longer safe for teaching and learning.
Our correspondent reported that not only are toilets in the institution eyesore but the classrooms and staff rooms are falling apart.
Our correspondent visited the school in the evening after staff and students might have closed for the day, therefore, could not speak with anyone.
The Chief Resident, Department of Obstetrics and Gnyaecology, University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH), Enobong Mkpang, said poor sanitary condition in schools affect students negatively.
Mkpang, who said the situation is worse for the girl-child also noted that it would be difficult for a girl to focus on the learning process when she is having issues relating to privacy when she needs to change her sanitary pad.
“A girl who is worried about where to change her sanitary pad is distracted and cannot focus in what the teacher is teaching,” said Mkpang.
The implication is that a female student would be distracted for three to five days, every month, depending on their menstrual cycle.
“A girl won’t be focused on the learning process when she is having issues relating to privacy when the need to change sanitary pads arises,” she continued.
“Factors such as poor disposal facilities, lack of clean water supply, mixed gender toilets, etc. are what can contribute to inconveniencing the girl child during menstrual flow.
“Aside making the child prefer staying out of school during menstrual flows, it can also in the long term cause gender inequality and affect the woman’s sexual and reproductive health.”
The Secretary of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Akwa Ibom State chapter, Ekem Emmanuel, said the high cost of sanitary pads has caused many to use poor quality alternatives.
“For those with heavy flow, this can cause serious discomfort and consequently distract the girl-child academically,” Emmanuel said.
He, however, stressed the need for early enlightenment of the girl-child about the basics of menstruation and how to build and keep a healthy menstrual life.
“When the mind of the girl-child is pre-exposed to this gender peculiarity, she will be able to prepare herself for it, see and accept the same as normality and as well build more confidence in handling the public challenges that come with the menstrual flow,” he said.
Mr. Emmanuel’s position aligns with the advice of the National Health Service (NHS).
“Most girls start their periods when they’re about 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it’s important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they’re prepared,” the NHS indicated on its website.
Education commissioner keeps mum
The state Commissioner for Education, Idongesit Etiebet, was contacted on the telephone to speak on the poor state of conveniences in public schools.
Mrs. Etiebet had declined to speak with our correspondent, insisting that she is not authorised to speak to the media.
Not satisfied, our correspondent had written to the commissioner through the information office in the ministry.
The commissioner is yet to respond to the inquiry made by our correspondent up till the time of filling this report.
This report was supported by the Journalism Retool House Mentorship Project of the NEXT EDITION Newspaper.