Every day starts with hygiene at Mahendraganj Purba F.P. School in the Sagar Block of India’s South 24 Parganas District.
The morning school assembly includes a reminder to all students about the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, and each day the students promise to abide by healthy and hygienic practices. Nine-year-old Dipa is a Health Minister in the school’s Child Cabinet, meaning she is responsible for making sure students abide by their daily promise.
“Water and sanitation are very important, as these two things have immense impact on our health and overall development,” she says. Dipa says before the school had new sanitation and water facilities built in 2014, all 165 students in the school had only one toilet and two urinals to share.
“This was not sufficient,” she says. “We had to wait for a long time as the toilets were occupied. There was no facility for running water inside the latrine, and the urinals were very dirty and unhygienic. We used to panic just at the thought of having to use the school’s toilet.”
Along with new sanitation facilities and running water, Dipa’s school also started conducting hygiene education to reinforce the importance of using the sanitation facilities and keeping them clean. The education includes games and flip charts to keep students engaged, and Dipa says these regular hygiene sessions have changed behavior at the school.
“Many of my friends go home and share what they learn about water and hygiene with their parents,” says Dipa. “I also share what we are taught with my parents, and I have made my parents install a tap with running water and a toilet at our home.”
Snehasia Pahari is a teacher at the school and oversees the Child Cabinet and the hygiene education, which includes topics like bathing daily, trimming nails, washing hands with soap after using the toilet and before meals, and keeping surroundings and sanitation facilities clean. He has been teaching at the school for eight years and witnessed the change in the students after the new water and sanitation facilities were constructed.
“I have observed remarkable changes,” he says. “The children now consistently attend school, and the girls in particular look happier and healthier. Many parents have also told us they are very satisfied that the basic needs of their children are now being taken care of by the school.”
The students are following through on their daily commitment to healthy sanitation practices, and as enrollment continues to increase at the Mahendraganj Purba School, even more children and their families will be able to benefit from safe water and sanitation.