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The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Clean sweep by schoolgirls

Ranchi, collars up for pioneering a squeaky clean revolution.

Way back in 2009, girls of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Angara block, Ranchi, started an unusual hobby. Trained by officials of Jharkhand Education Project Council (JEPC) and Unicef’s sanitation cell wash experts, they started making low-cost liquid soaps, floor and toilet cleaners.

Now, Mission Shining, pioneered by Ranchi’s Angara, Chanho, Kanke and Mandar blocks, has spread across 8,000 students of 50 Kasturba schools — free residential cradles for poor girls — in Ranchi, Deoghar, Dumka and East Singhbhum districts. Girls not only make these three items but also use them liberally and tell family members why cleanliness is next to godliness.

The simple act of washing hands before and after meals and after using the toilet brings down cases of flu, cold, cough diarrhoea and even hepatitis A.

Clean floors and toilets curb bacteria and viruses.

Authorities have taken a shine to these home-made cleaning agents as they slash cost. “A school spent between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000 a month on these items. Now, it is down to Rs 350 to Rs 400,” said Seema Prasad, JEPC official and a frontrunner of this spic-and-span drive.

But she concedes that the crucial takeaway is that rural schoolgirls are hygienic now.

“A girl who learns the value of hygiene teaches it to her parents, siblings and later, her children. A girl is the nucleus of social change,” Prasad said.

The girls prove this ably.

“When I go home, I carry liquid soap to show my family and neighbours why washing hands is important,” said Class XII student Sumati Kujur who studies in Chanho’s Kasturba school and hails from Raghunathpur village.

“What we learnt will be useful even after leaving school,” said her classmate Rita Lakra.

Prasad agreed that the girls had learnt a vocation.

Preparing liquid soap requires slurry acid, trisodium phosphate, caustic soda, urea and water. Floor cleaner needs cutting oil, pine oil, liquid soap, citronella and water. Toilet cleaner needs hydrochloric acid, water and blue colour.

“The trick lies in remembering proportions of each. Kasturba schoolgirls of all districts will be trained by peers to make the cleaning agents,” said Gaurav Varma, state coordinator, Sarva Siksha Hygiene Education Cell, JEPC.

Unicef (Jharkhand) head Job Zachariah said it was a rewarding feeling. “This small effort is a big paradigm shift.”

Will this clean message percolate to the hinterland?