By ANINDITA DAS
Photos by Anis Ul Haque
A media team visited three schools under the UNICEF WASH Initiative on the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, 2015. The day, observed on October 15 every year, is an advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives. The trip was organised by Sanitation Scribes, supported by UNICEF Assam in association with CEE (Centre for Environment Education), to take stock of the WASH facilities in the schools.
The ‘Sanitation Scribes’ initiative between Shishu Sarothi and Thumb Print Foundation, supported by UNICEF Assam is a unique one that aims to bring into focus issues around Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Assam.
Media persons from Guwahati visited three schools – Pub Mazirgaon LP School, Azara Keotpara LP School and Sajjanpara LP School, all under the Child Friendly School and System (CFSS) and Daily Handwashing for an Ailment Free Life (DHaAL) projects, were visited by a group of media persons, WASH specialist and CEE members.
In the year 2011 WASH components were added in the Pub Mazirgaon LP School. CEE is working as the implementation partner in the (CFSS) and (DHaAL) projects. Simanta Kalita, Programme Coordinator, CEE said, “The aim was to make the schools child friendly and ensuring a safe environment. The focus was on WASH, availability of water and separate clean toilets for boys and girls. There was a time when students were reluctant to come to school. But now they hardly miss school”. During the morning school assembly on the day of the visit, the students of the school were found conveying WASH messages. They do it every day as a part of the morning assembly.
The “Chattra Sangha” or the student cabinet of the school include members from the students’ community to look after the availability of water, cleaning of toilets and monitoring hand washing of children, following the five steps introduced by UNICEF in a routine manner. They also try to supervise the personal hygiene of each and every student by making them put on sandals, checking their nails and teeth. Prior to the intervention of DHaAL, students did not follow hand washing before their midday meal. They did not use soap. Now, they are so habituated with hand washing that they compel others at home to strictly follow it.
“My son has become very conscious about cleanliness and asks his grandparents to wear sandals while going to toilets, to wash hands before eating and keeping the compound clean with proper garbage disposal system”, a mother said. The teachers and the Mothers’ committee play an important role to maintain such a system. On the occasion of Global Handwashing Day a “Safai Abhijan” song was performed by a group of students. The song, composed by Surjya Thakuria, evoked the message of keeping the environment clean.
The second school visited by the team was Azara Keotpara LP School, established in the year 1957. It was intervened by CFSS in 2011. The students of the school mostly belong to the fishermen community. The community has been very supportive and proactive in making the school a unique one. The effort of Kamal Goswami, an active teacher of the school, has led to draw interest and attention of the different communities, which are adequately used for the uplift of the school. The student cabinet keep a strict vigilance on handwashing and cleaning of toilets.
Interestingly. the girls’ toilet is attached to the school and is very well maintained to keep it clean and odour-free. The school has a wall mount type handwashing station. The Mothers’ Committee is happy to see their children taking responsibilities in creating and maintaining a clean environment and also for the fact that the message has spread from the school to their houses. The children at a time were prone to different water-borne diseases, which has come down considerably, leading to the increase in the attendance rate. A good bonding has grown between the school and the community. The school has proved that maintenance is the ultimate requirement for the smooth functioning of a school.
The students of Sajjanpara LP School sing a handwashing song while washing hands in group before the midday meal. The school has a traditional water filtration system. The handwashing station has been made in such a way that very less amount of water is used in the process. One student is specially appointed from the school cabinet to look after handwashing. The school follows a very eco-friendly system. The water from the handwashing station flows to a vegetable bed, coconut shells are used as soap cases and dustbins are made of fishing nets. The parents of the students of the school are very actively associated with the school. They work in groups to clean the school compound and toilets of the school. The mothers also render their help in cooking and serving the midday meal.