BY ANINDITA DAS
Photos by Anis Ul Haque
A group of chirpy school children from six government schools in and around Guwahati took part in a conversation on Group Hand washing in Schools, organised by Sanitation Scribes and supported by UNICEF, Assam. The conversation was organised in association with Thumb Print Foundation and Shishu Sarothi. A student Nishita, said, “I frequently used to suffer from fever and cold, and so could not attend school most of the time. After we had been exposed to the importance of daily hand washing in school, I started feeling much better and scarcely remain absent from school now after I began practising it daily.” Another one from Japorijog School said, “Earlier I could not concentrate in the class as I constantly had a stomach pain. It is after I have started paying heed to hand washing, got rid of such problems.”
Tahseen Alam, Communication Officer, UNICEF, speaking about the aim of the conversation said “we intend to know how WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) is relevant in the context of Assam.” Senior journalist Priyanka Borpujari, the moderator, steered the conversation by making the participants come up with their experiences, views, observations and suggestions in the forum.
The schools that participated in the conversation included Dakhingaon ME School, Lutuma LP School, Medhipara LP School, Cotton Collegiate Higher Secondary School, Azara Keotpara LP School, Japorigog High School and Rukminigaon High School.
Apurba Thakuria, SPO, SSA (Sarba Siksha Abhiyan) informed that there are 50,000 schools in Assam under SSA, with 65 lakh students. The Public Health Engineering (PHE) department is in charge of developing the infrastructure for providing safe drinking water and toilets to each and every school. There are very few schools now which are lacking in these facilities.
“The process of group hand washing is the best way to inspire each other, and good feeling is fostered when it is done looking at each other. We do the work in a disciplined manner, as we learn to use less water and make queue to wash hands”, he further remarked. Sumi Borkotoky, SPO, SSA said that the students who were representing their schools in the discussion must carry the message forward. She also talked about the importance of keeping the toilets clean to prevent germs from affecting the children.
“The students have a huge role to play in this regard, as they must spread the message to their schools, their locality and to the society at large. Things learned by forty students today needs to be carried out to forty thousand schools”, urged Chhaya Kunwar, Education Specialist, UNICEF to the students. The morning assembly is the best medium to convey the WASH message, she mentioned.
Simanta Kalita, Programme Coordinator, Centre for Environment Education (CEE), briefing about the implementation of DHaAL (Daily Handwashing for an Ailment Free Life) project under UNICEF, held that it is necessary to ask at least 10 hygiene related questions everyday to the students, such as whether they have taken bath, trimmed their nails, washed their hands after using toilet and before eating their meal, a method which turned out to be a very effective so far to make the students imbibe the habit of daily hand washing. The process entails training of teachers, educating and creating awareness, policy advocacy and so on.
“It has been announced by the Government of Assam that the first 10 Nirmal Vidyalaya will be awarded in the next Republic Day, which calls for a guideline to be made through this project so that all the schools in Assam strive to become Nirmal Vidyalaya. The students are the torchbearers who need to show the way towards such a goal,” Kalita said enthusiastically.
Arman Ali, Executive Director of Shishu Sarothi interacted with the students. He said, “If there is no proper provision in the schools for toilets and safe drinking water, you must question about it to your teachers.”
A group of Sanitation Scribes were also part of the conversation. Bonya Baruah of Dainik Janambhumi, shared her experience of visiting a few schools under DHaAL. She said, “The strong Mothers’ Group and Students’ Cabinet in the schools, aid in bringing about a lot of positive changes in terms of hygiene indicate the success of the project.”
The teachers of the schools also shared their experiences and views on the issue. “We are not yet provided with safe water for drinking and cooking the mid-day meal. Due to the lack of running water we have not been able to follow the group hand washing system”, reported the headmistress of Lutuma L.P School.
The students and community members of Azara Keotpara L.P School had been instrumental in bringing a considerable change to the school’s environment, becoming actively associated with the mission. “Earlier, the parents did not agree to the children getting engaged in the cleaning works. But now they have been made aware of the importance of cleanliness and are taking a lot of interest”, stated a teacher of the school. They have also pointed out to the fact that the effort of the teachers is not enough. The SMC (School Management Committee) has a huge role to play if changes are to be brought. The Students’ Cabinet also have a crucial function in this context.
The best part of the conversation was listening to the vibrant kids who shared their experiences. All of them expressed their keen interest to learn from each other and take up the responsibility to spread WASH message to everyone possible, right from their friends, family, neighbour and society. “Onamoy Niramoy”, a short play, directed by Umesh Goswami, performed by the students of Medhipara L.P School on WASH had been highly appreciated by all. Two short films on the issue, produced by UNICEF were also screened in between the discussion.
Teresa Rehman, the Managing Editor of The Thumb Print, saying that she has learnt a lot from the children, expressed her gratitude for the stimulating discussion with everyone, specifically children, taking active part in it.