A school manager’s vision to make access to decent toilets possible is now an inspiration for other nearby schools in Chitrakoot district, Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, the attendance of girls has also increased significantly. Here is how it happened.
There was a festive feel at Vivekanand Awasiya Vidyalaya. Located in Chak Jafar, which is part of the Pahari block of Chitrakoot district in Uttar Pradesh. Nearly 600 people from 10 neighbouring villages had gathered to celebrate Republic Day last year. All eyes were eager to see the brand new water and sanitation facilities constructed in the school.
One of the visitors, Pramod Gautam from Pachokhar village asked the teachers if he could use the new toilet facility in the school or should he go outside in the open to attend to the call of nature as he had done before. The answer was of course, a yes. After using the toilet, Gautam’s curiosity heightened and he probed further, enquiring if the toilets were only for teachers or for the students as well. His happiness knew no bounds when told, that the facilities were for everyone. The reason for Gautam’s inquisitiveness was his daughter Kalpana’s complaints in the past. As a student of class 11th in the school, she often complained of not having a toilet in her school.
Students accessing the new clean drinking water facility at the school. (Photo credits: WaterAid India/Mansi Thapliyal)
Vivekanand Awasiya Vidyalaya, a private school till higher secondary caters to almost a dozen villages in the area. Of the total 798 students, 462 are boys and 336 girls. The new sanitation facilities at the school soon became the centre of attention for many in the surrounding villages.
Behind the transformation was a sincere will
Until six months before the inauguration of the school‘s new toilets, the situation was drastically different. Both teachers and students, including girls, went out in the open to attend to nature’s call. The school did have a toilet but due to its improper use it had become defunct. The whole area emitted a foul stench. The school campus also remained littered with all sorts of waste that children threw indiscriminately.
The School Manager, Vijay Shankar shares, “Though I was concerned about the cleanliness in the school, it was challenging to maintain it in the absence of proper sanitation infrastructure and the lack of hygiene awareness among the children.”
Students outside the newly constructed toilet complex. (Photo credits: WaterAid India/Mansi Thapliyal)
His wish was granted as within a few months WaterAid and its partner organisation intervened and together they worked towards building the capacities of both, teachers and students, by raising awareness about various aspects of water, sanitation and hygiene. Apart from conducting special training sessions for teachers and students, the teams also revived the School Management Committee (SMC) – a group that acts as a bridge between the community and the school, playing the additional role to ensure that all basic requirements are catered for.
The concept of WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) brigades were also introduced. The two WASH Brigades - one led by girls and the other by boys through a variety of activities helped in educating the children on a variety of WASH themes through informative yet entertaining mediums like puppet shows, magic shows and hand wash campaigns along with other engaging games. The fun filled activities created an interest in the children and enabled them to grasp the importance of personal hygiene as well as to start practicing it.
Working together showed results
Shankar confesses that the knowledge encouraged the management, the members of the SMC and WASH Brigade to prioritise water and sanitation related needs of the school. “What worked in our favour was collaboration and proactive participation” he says.
Pushed by the SMC and supported by the organisations, the management refurbished the toilets. The new infrastructure was beautified with tiles and colourful wall writings, which made it appealing for the children. The school now has a clean and functional toilet for both boys and girls, besides four urinals for boys and three for girls.
Taking all precautions to avoid previously made mistakes, the school also arranged for a regular sweeper who now cleans the toilets on a daily basis. Besides, once a week, another sweeper is called from the village to do a thorough deep cleaning. The school also erected a handwashing facility from which children could drink clean water.
However, the awareness helped in revolutionizing the children’s thinking. The WASH Brigade became vocal about their needs, and demanded a separate arrangement for drinking water. “We used to drink water from the hand washing facility, but when the water supply was not available during the day, there would be no water” explains Vibha Devi, 16, a student of class 11. Vibha is also the Sanitation Minister for the WASH Brigade. She says the children were compelled to carry water to school from the village handpump which was some distance away.
Vibha, a student of class 11th attends school regularly post improvements in the water and toilet situation. (Photo credits: WaterAid India/Mansi Thapliyal)
On their demand, a submersible pump along with an overhead tank was installed. This tank is connected to six new taps, which are used exclusively for drinking water.
She reveals that, “Earlier, many girls used to bunk school during their menstruation because accessing the toilet was an issue, but now no girl misses school because of periods. The new toilet has a hole dug adjacent to it, and girls bury their used napkins in it. The toilet has made it easier for girls” she observes.
Collectively, teachers and the WASH Brigade monitor the status of sanitation in the school as well as the personal hygiene of the children. They supervise the cleaning of toilets, check the wastage of drinking water and regularly monitor to ensure that children follow hygiene practices.
Disseminating knowledge and motivating others
While the new facilities are encouraging other schools, the students are motivating families in their villages. As agents of change, the students are disseminating knowledge to their families and neighbours. The awareness has resulted in an increased number of people using toilets in the village.
“Now, we are making efforts to make this village Open Defecation-Free (ODF)” says the Manager. The enhanced knowledge compelled him to form a ‘Nigrani Team’ (Vigilance Team) in the village. The team uses Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) methods, such as blowing a whistle or shining a torch at people defecating in the open. “The idea is to encourage people to discontinue their old practices and ensure a change of behaviour in them.”
However, Shankar still feels the need to have more toilets considering the number of students in the school. “I am working on the idea of making one more sanitation unit separately for girls” he concludes.