Luis and I took a short bus ride from Riobamba. The rhythmic rocking of the behemoths they call buses here was still enough to induce both of us into a brief slumber. After thirty minutes and a brisk walk through a few uneven cobblestone streets, we reached a tall iron gate that sat guarding a small school. On the side of the school facing the street it read “Escuela Mariana Borja” in black, capital letters.
We had arrived. To look at a bathroom.
It wasn’t yet a bathroom per se — it was a patch of grass and a pile of rubble from which we were going to begin building one. Sanitation projects for MEDLIFE Ecuador are some of the most important community projects for providing sustained health care. This school sits in the Cajabamba community in Colta, a primarily indigenous and rural population. Rural and lower-class regions like these have the worst access to proper sanitation facilities in the country. Without hygienic separation from fecal matter, it can often lead to infections and diarrhea that is life-threatening, especially for younger children.
Escuela Mariana Borja is overflowing with children between first and sixth grade. Once you’re inside, dark orange and ochre walls form semi-outdoor hallways. Children duck and giggle behind pillars. A cement rectangle forms a small soccer field in the center of the compound, where young boys scrabble over a well-worn ball.
The need for the bathroom project was obvious. The current situation involves three stalls for boys and three for girls. There are over 200 students. When we spoke with the principal and some school children, they told us that often the smaller children get pushed out of the long lines for the bathroom during recesses by the older students. They hardly get to wash their hands, let alone relieve themselves.
But the school day must go on. Children in a fourth grade science class were excitedly slapping bright red paint onto papier mÃ¢chÃ© volcanoes in makeshift streams of lava. First graders were practicing their letters in small marble notebooks in an impressive concentrated silence.
On November 7th, the bathroom construction site was a pile of cinderblocks, a few scattered indigenous women volunteers from the community, and the skeleton of an old metal swing-set. By November 16th, a frame of the new stalls was erected in gray cinderblock, and a volunteer group was busily installing piping and supports on the roof. The project is slated for completion by November 26th.
Rachel Hoffman is a MEDLIFE media intern based in Riobamba, Ecuador