Bagadhar Utkramit Madhya School, located in the interiors of Ranishwar block, 53 kilometers away from Dumka District Headquarters in Jharkhand is experiencing a change that was unimaginable until a year ago. The school headmaster, Kamal Kumar Pal, has been a prominent part of this change. Everyone – teachers, students, parents - have not only started feeling responsible towards the school’s water, sanitation, and hygiene issues but are taking a personal interest in the maintenance of its infrastructure as well. This collaborative effort is marking some great milestones.
When the School Management Committee (SMC) of Bagadhar Utkramit Madhya School met in January 2017, the topmost item on their agenda was to prevent local people from stealing water taps from the handwashing facility in the school. Bagadhar Utkramit Madhya School is in the interiors of this remote district and teaches 87 children - 45 girls and 42 boys.
An SMC member, Gopi Nath Saha, even suggested securing the taps by means of a wire grill. Another nagging issue that the students faced was an irregular supply of soap for washing their hands. The school has a Child Cabinet (CC) that proposed a solution: each member of the Cabinet would contribute Rs 2 per month in order to be self-reliant. The money would be used for buying items like soaps or jugs. Now, barring a few who cannot afford to contribute, every student pays towards this fund which the head of the CC manages. “The secret behind such an action-oriented approach from our School Management Committee and Child Cabinet members has stemmed from that fact that we’ve started following clear-cut guidelines on how to monitor water, sanitation, and hygiene issues,” explains Kamal Kumar Pal, the school Head Master.
Pal admits that the proper guidelines have helped them to evolve a better thought process regarding water, sanitation and especially hygiene management. As a result of the regular awareness workshops, open dialogues and meetings, the SMC and CC members, as well as the teachers have started making proactive decisions owing to their enhanced knowledge of water and sanitation related issues.
The past practices were different
However, Pal also admits that such practices were not common in the past, and the picture of the school was rather unsightly.
The school did not even have a toilet for which Pal had to persuade the government authorities. Eventually, the toilet was constructed, but it remained just a concrete ornament. “Not only children, even the teachers had no clue how to use the toilet properly, so a lock was put on it and the old practice of going out in the open continued,” admits the Head Master.
The only hand pump in the school did not function most of the time and no one bothered to get it fixed. Water was brought from a nearby well and kept in pitchers into which the children would put their hands when they wanted to drink it.
“No one had any idea on how to store the water properly, while it never occurred to us to persuade the children to wash their hands,” he adds. He confesses that neither the SMC was active then, nor was the CC.
Monitoring tool streamlined the supervision
In 2014, WaterAid and its partner organization identified 50 schools in Jharkhand to promote water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues and Bagadhar Middle School was one of them. The organizations developed a WinS (WASH in Schools) Monitoring Tool, which was institutionalized in all the schools after proper training was imparted.
The monitoring tool which has 27 indicators, facilitated the tracking of water, sanitation, and personal hygiene, including Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and nutrition. The tool was supported by a scorecard in the form of traffic lights – green for achieving the target, yellow for working on it and red for failing to address the issue.
A chart highlighting all the 27 indicators was painted on the main wall of the school. Along with the installation of the infrastructure such as a handwashing facility or the water supply to the toilets, for the sustainability of the programme, the members of SMC and CC were also thoroughly trained on how to use the monitoring tool. During the monthly meetings of the SMC and CC, each point was discussed and its progress was duly marked on the chart.
A guided routine led to the change
The plus point of the school was the commitment of its teachers and students, which facilitated quick learning. They were able to execute the monitoring tool for supervising the WASH status in the school, effectively. The outcome is now visible to everyone.
“The biggest change due to this clarity was that everyone, including teachers, students, and parents, started feeling responsible towards issues relating to water, sanitation, and hygiene in school and the maintenance of related infrastructure,” Pal sums up. “Each member takes a personal interest in improving the overall environment of the school and accordingly contributes.”
Parents and students participate actively to improve the WASH condition in the school
No more open defecation by any student or teacher. If the school toilet is occupied, the students queue up and wait for their turn. During the Mid-Day Meal (MDM), CC members act as a vigilante to ensure that the cook is following basic hygiene practices while cooking, and all the children are washing their hands with soap before eating their meals.
Another impact of the monitoring tool is a drastic change in the students’ attendance which has gone up from a 50 percent to nearly 70 percent. Now, fewer children are falling ill as compared to the numbers in the past, says Pal.
The members of the SMC and CC follow the monitoring tool diligently and accordingly check school sanitation and personal hygiene in students.
The biggest accolade has come from the District Superintendent of Education (DSE), Arun Kumar, who suggested that the WinS Monitoring Tool should be introduced in all the Middle Schools in Dumka and SMC and CC members should be trained to use it. Kumar believes that “This is the best and most sustainable way to ensure the holistic development of any school.”