At Hekima and Tandale Primary Schools in Dar es Salaam every student has a story to tell about how water shortage and poor sanitation is both a threat to their health and affects their performance in class.
"There's no drinking water in this area, we depend on a borehole whose water is too salty to drink, we only use it for cleaning toilets," said Mariam Saleh, a grade six student at Tandale school.
A poor learning environment, neighborhood crime and inadequate nutrition has forced many students from low-income families to abandon classes altogether. But ever since the school adopted a pilot project aimed at managing resources and improving educational facilities, things have started to look up.
The schools, located in one of the city's slum areas, use their extensive roofs to collect rain water, which is then stored in giant storage tanks. Students have also been trained to develop vertical food gardens linked to the rainwater harvesting system. They grow vegetables which are used to supplement school food.
Nutritious meals for students
An improved cooking stove has also been installed in one of the schools, replacing an open fire and reducing the amount of wood required for cooking.
"We wanted to create a vision for the schools so that they can become self-sustained with their own water supply, energy and improved sanitation," said project manager Sarah Birch. She works for ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, an international organization of local governments and others committed to sustainable development and based in Bonn, Germany.
Every morning students take turns tending the gardens using drip irrigation. According to Birch the idea is to use the vegetables to improve students' nutrition and to help surrounding communities to adopt a similar approach.
"We wanted to ensure students are well nourished, not only with a humble porridge but also with nutritious vegetable stew," she said.
The scheme is run by Kinondoni municipal council with support from German Development Corporation (GIZ) and is part of a larger international project led by ICLEI addressing crises in water, energy and food supplies at local level.
It is also being implemented in India and a global study is being developed to help other cities to emulate it.
Testing development strategies for the wider community
According to Birch, through learning by seeing and doing, students can help pass on the knowledge to their parents and help change mindsets.
The schools are planning to make use of their substantial toilet waste by setting up a biogas plant to produce energy.
"We can create energy from human waste within communities and at public facilities. These are clean, safe, efficient technologies that are available to use," Birch said.
Munga Mtengeti, head teacher at Tandale School, told DW that apart from inadequate resources the school was facing a myriad of problems including dumping of domestic refuse on the school grounds.
Kinondoni Municipal Director Mussa Natty told DW that local schools were ideal places for assessing how new development approaches could be introduced in densely packed neighborhoods.
Natty said over 70% of city inhabitants live in unplanned areas and some of them need to relocate because they had settled in areas that are susceptible to flooding which is blamed on climate change.