Childhood is a time to play, to learn, to explore, and dream about our futures. But for millions of children around the world, especially girls, their youth is marred by something most of us would never think twice about: a shortage of safe drinking water, and clean, secure sanitation facilities.
In West Bengal, India, 10th grader Noor-e-naksima is doing her part in preserving her childhood and that of her classmates at Pabdana Hifzul Ullum High School. She’s served as secretary of her school’s WATSAN committee (Water and Sanitation Committee) for years, and actively participates in their weekly hygiene sessions.
“I have been in the WATSAN committee since its institutionalization,” Naksima says. “I was inspired by how having an arsenic filter plant installed at my school made a huge difference within the community and school.”
Arsenic contamination is a common problem in West Bengal, leading to high rates of student illness. In 2011, Water For People collaborated with Naihati Prolife (a local NGO) to install a hand-pump, drinking water taps, toilets, changing rooms, and incinerators in the school. They also established a maintenance system through the WATSAN committee, funded by the students themselves. Naksima helps with upkeep such as checking for pipe leaks, stocking cleaning supplies, and testing for continual running water.
The students now have a new perspective on hygiene, and regular menstrual hygiene education has decreased absenteeism rates among girls. “Girl students now get to use sanitary napkins and are aware of how to maintain menstrual hygiene discipline and feel more confident in sharing our issues with teachers,” Naksima explains.
The other students respect Naksima for her dedication to their health and safety. Many of them joined WATSAN over the years with her encouragement, and they are inspired to continue her good work once she leaves at the end of the school year for college. “I like to bring others on WATSAN board and help maintain the precious facilities that we have got,” Naksima says with pride.
Rhyming along a poem written by Tagore “Aaj Mangalbar Jangal Saf Korar Din” (Today is Tuesday, the day we clean); Naksima joins the other students to finish their work so they can play.