New Delhi: “Promoting handwashing in school and maintaining sanitation facilities like toilets, menstrual hygiene management facilities, among others have resulted in increased attendance and enrolment. Parents look up to us as a good school having a healthy and clean environment for their children”, said Gulsan, a Teacher at a Government Primary School Gejha in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida. The government school is one of the 30,000 schools where Rotary International has implemented WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) facilities with an aim to improve school environments and thus improve children’s access to these basic needs in developing countries.
In 2016, Rotary International developed a pilot program called ‘WASH in Schools Target Challenge’ to encourage clubs to develop sustainable WASH, and education projects in schools. The pilot was launched in five countries including India. Talking more about the project, Ramesh Aggarwal, Member, Rotary International WASH in Schools Committee and Chair Wins India Recognition Committee, said,
The main objective of the WASH in Schools Target Challenge is to improve school environments in developing countries by building the capacity of teachers, enhancing school curriculums, and providing for the sustained delivery of water, sanitation, and hygiene education services to children. The program is conceptualised using a three-star (three-level) implementation and recognition approach, measuring outcomes such as the number of schools with sustainable WASH facilities, number of students involved, school attendance and enrolment increase, and behaviour change.
Ensuring Availability Of Water, Sanitation And Hygiene Facilities In Schools
The challenge is in line with the government’s Swachh Vidyalaya Abhiyan launched under Swachh Bharat Mission. As part of the initiative, Rotary International focusses on upgradation of sanitation facilities; ensuring sufficient group handwashing facilities with soap; child friendly Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) facilities; availability of safe drinking water and for handwashing; maintenance of WASH facilities in schools by ensuring that there is a regular supply of cleaning materials and consumables to keep the WASH facilities clean and well maintained.
Activities and programs for staff and school children to promote the correct use and maintenance of facilities are also included. Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) messages are integrated into the regular curriculum, said Mr Aggarwal.
Further talking about how the team promotes WASH among children and make it a part of daily life, Mr Aggarwal said,
Introducing a WASH-related thought or message each day is one way of ensuring new practices are integrated into children’s daily routines. This can be done during a school assembly and also during the classes by integrating WASH education in the classroom curriculum. The effectiveness can be enhanced further if theoretical knowledge dissemination is coupled with practical learning and can be made more enjoyable for students. Children can take a lead in this activity through songs, games, competitions, essay writing, drama and sharing responsibility for repeating the message throughout the day. School mealtime provides a good opportunity for everyone to wash their hands properly with soap in groups where children in a group of 10 to 12 wash their hands with soap under the supervision of a teacher and sing a jingle around the importance of handwashing with soap.
To lead WASH initiatives, a novel concept called ‘Child Cabinet’ was also introduced. Explaining the concept, Manju Khatri, Deputy Director- Education, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, said,
The children form teams and appoint ministers among themselves, and are given responsibilities to address and discuss various school issues such as water and sanitation. These child ministers then guide everyone on proper handwashing, usage of soap, flushing toilets, and act as the agents of change.
Since 2016, Rotary has implemented WASH in Schools project in over 30,000 schools with the support of state education departments and their district level officials benefiting over 1 million families. The target is to cover 1.5 lakh schools by 2025.
Primary School Gejha in Noida is one of the beneficiaries. Sharing her experience of working with a local Rotary Club under the aegis of Rotary International, Neelam Singh, Headmistress of the school said,
Before the ‘Rotary Club of Delhi Ashoka’ adopted our school, the condition of our establishment was unsatisfactory. The building was falling apart and we had no toilets, grounds or proper rooms. It was a very unfortunate situation. Rotary Club of Delhi Ashoka helped in the building of toilets, ground, windows, and doors and transformed it into a school in a true sense.
The program not only focuses on building toilets but also improving existing facilities. Talking about the challenges that come in the way of implementing WASH facilities, Mr Aggarwal said,
Use of poor design and inappropriate technology possess a huge challenge in achieving our goal. Little understanding of life cycle costs, poor operation, and maintenance of WASH facilities due to the lack of funding from state governments and almost non-involvement of local communities are the major factors that lead to the failure of the WASH in Schools projects. Many schools either do not have enough water or lack proper drainage disposal system leading to the collapse of WASH facilities. Other hurdles in the successful implementation of WASH in Schools include the lack of professional management, no capacity building, no training of teachers and school management committees and no involvement of children who are the main stakeholders of WASH in Schools program.
WASH, Reopening Of Schools And COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis resulted in the closure of schools which according to Mr Aggarwal has further disrupted school-based services essential for the nutrition, health, welfare, and protection of vulnerable children. The WASH facilities in many schools may not be functional and properly maintained due to the closure and non-availability of cleaning staff. These may lead to an additional cost to the ongoing projects, he added.
But with the phased reopening of services across the country, various states have switched back to offline classes with precautions like ensuring handwashing facility for all, availability of space to maintain physical distance among children; maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, among others.
Mr Aggarwal informed that the role of children presidents or members of Child Cabinet will increase after schools reopen amid the COVID-19. They will brief other children handwashing, proper technique of handwashing, and even given regular reminders. School walls have already been painted with handwashing technique, he added.
Talking about how Rotary International is working towards providing a safe environment to children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Aggarwal said, the team will focus on the availability of resources like cleaning agents, masks, sanitisers, separate toilets, among others and also train the staff. He added,
We will train administrative staff and teachers on implementing physical distancing and school hygiene practices. Emphasise behavioural change to increase both the intensity and frequency of cleaning and disinfection activities and improve waste management practices. Promote hygienic practices at all levels and for all staff of the school system, with an emphasis on handwashing and respiratory etiquette.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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