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Remarkable changes in schools spotted through WASH project initiated in 2019

The programme, known as WASH for short, has been made possible by the collaboration of several Rotary clubs

Subhalakshmi Dey | Published 02.04.24, 11:05 AM
The WASH in Schools Project has facilitated hand washing and sanitation in schools

The WASH in Schools Project has facilitated hand washing and sanitation in schools

 Pictures: WASH in Schools Project

In India, poor water and sanitation facilities are commonplace in thousands of schools, making students vulnerable to diseases that hamper attendance and lead to higher dropout rates. However, in the heart of Calcutta and nearby districts of Howrah, Hooghly, Midnapore and Murshidabad, a transformative project has been unfolding over the past few years. This project, initiated in April 2019 and completed in January 2024, has brought clean water, sanitation, and hygiene to 20 schools, benefitting 10,557 students (6,830 girls and 3,727 boys) across six districts in Bengal.

The programme, known as WASH for short, has been made possible by the collaboration of several Rotary clubs. Spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Belur and along with the Rotary Club of Calcutta Chowringhee, Calcutta North Suburban and Chandernagore, the initiative was also supported by Rotary Clubs from the USA, including Danville/Sycamore Valley, Danville, Richmond, Alamo, San Ramon and San Ramon Valley.


WASH has brought about the construction and renovation of 35 gender-segregated toilet blocks, 21 handwashing stations, 18 safe drinking water stations, 17 clean water sources and the installation of nine sanitary pad vending machines across all these schools. “With a total cost of $142,600, the project has been a significant investment in the future of these children,” said Amar Malhotra, president of Rotary Club of Belur.

The impact left behind by the project has been profound, especially for young girls who now have access to sanitation facilities for the first time in their lives. Nine-year-old Shahanara Khatoon previously had to travel back home for half an hour whenever she needed to use the latrine, but now, thanks to WASH, there are new lavatories in her school and she doesn’t have to wait anymore. “I am delighted with the new latrines, I can wash my face and hands during break-time and after playing,” she said. What’s more is the fact that Shahanara and her classmates are benefiting from segregated latrines that provide privacy, whereas previously it was estimated that less than 20 per cent of schools in Murshidabad had separate restrooms for girls.

Hygiene training has also been taking place in full swing in these schools, bringing about a marked change in behaviour of the students. Vital lessons such as washing hands with soap, using water in the latrine, personal hygiene and waste management have successfully been imparted through fun activities, story-telling and interactive sessions. A teacher at Saradapally Free Government School described how he has witnessed the behavioural changes that the project has brought about. “The children used to treat hand washing as a cursory activity. They would use only water and then wipe their hands on their clothes, gathering more dirt. Soap was not readily available in the wash basins and the students never asked the teachers for it. All this changed after the WASH in Schools Project was introduced. WASH trainers engaged the students in interactive games in which they saw soap being used as an important accessory. Now the children not only demand soaps in school but also wash their hands the correct way,” he shared.

The schools themselves have started to do their bit to make WASH a success by making staff attend capacity-building workshops on WASH, arranged by project as well as in association with UNICEF. Nita Dey, headmistress of Barai Balika Vidyalaya, inspired not just her staff but also the parents of the students to take an interest in the WASH Project that took place in her school. “Necessity is the mother of invention. Our school had run out of soap and cleaning items and we did not have a ready fund to purchase the next stock immediately. So I decided to purchase the soap from my own pocket. The teachers also chipped in. It is a small cost but a big move that signals a change in the mindset of the teachers. This is our school and we must do our bit to sustain the WASH Project that benefits us and our students,” she said.

At Kalighat Mahakali Pathshala, a secondary school for girls near Kalighat temple, once-shy students now openly discuss menstrual health and hygiene, thanks to WASH mentors sharing their own experiences. The school now provides a sanitary pad vending machine and incinerator, empowering girls to access pads easily. Similarly, boys at Shree Maheshwari Vidyalaya in Burrabazar, Calcutta, demonstrate environmental responsibility by making classroom trash cans and promoting the segregation of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. These initiatives showcase the legacy WASH has left behind in terms of inclusivity, empowerment, and sustainability.

The WASH in Schools Project has had a ripple effect in surrounding communities. Parents proudly share anecdotes of their children’s newfound priorities, such as using snack money to purchase soap for home or admonishing siblings for neglecting water usage in latrines. Children eagerly recount lessons learned at school about the dangers of unhygienic practices and stress the importance of covering water and food to prevent disease transmission by flies. The community surrounding Aror Nityananda School in Purba Midnapore celebrates the implementation of clean water and gender-segregated bathrooms, with community members attending the inauguration of the WASH facilities. An alumna of Karatberia School, now a teacher herself, reflects on past hardships due to inadequate WASH facilities and expresses gratitude for the positive changes she witnesses today.

Rotarian Ranjit Chakravorty of Rotary Club of Danville/Sycamore Valley has been the force behind so many US Rotary Clubs joining the project. While inaugurating the WASH facilities in Aror Nityananda Primary School in April 2022, he said: “There is a saying that to raise a child, you need a village. The success of the project will truly reflect on the children and their health, when every community member participates in the WASH programme and makes the community a WASH-friendly one.”

It is safe to say that the journey of the project has not been without its challenges. The pandemic had caused multiple delays and disruptions; however, the impact of the WASH in Schools Project has been nothing short of monumental ever since. More than 90 per cent of the schools in question now boast of clean, well-maintained washrooms and other WASH facilities, becoming not only institutes for education but also symbols of dignity and equality for the children who frequent them. Students, once limited by the lack of access to proper WASH amenities, have undergone a remarkable transformation. They have embraced positive changes in their hygiene practices now, and benefit from far-reaching consequences for their overall health and well-being.

Last updated on 02.04.24, 11:52 AM

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