GUWAHATI, India, 11 October 2010: Assam, a north eastern state of India, whose rich, refreshing tea, helps many around the world kickstart their day, took a headstart in ushering in the third Global Handwashing Day celebrations in the state on 11 October – four days ahead of the scheduled global launch.
The reason -- to ensure that schools and students, the key actors of the handwashing campaign, join in the celebrations, before taking off on their annual festive break.
And join in they did, with their usual gusto and enthusiasm – taking out rallies and processions, demonstrating handwashing and pledging to practise it, in their homes, schools and community.
Leading them were senior ministers and officials responsible for water-sanitation and education programmes in the state, who travelled to rural remote schools and tea garden communities to launch the celebrations.
The campaign panned out to 4300 elementary schools across 16 districts in the state, which lie in the tea-intensive region of Upper Assam and have poor health and sanitation facilities.
At the Bhooteachang Tea Estate Primary School, in Udalguri district, close to the Bhutan border, Assam’s Minister for Public Health and Engineering (PHE) Department, Mr Rihon Daimary, walked two kilometeres in a colourful procession through the vast expanse of the tea estate, matching the zeal of tea community children in spreading hygiene and sanitation messages to their peers, parents and community.
“We must remember to practise everyday, what we did today,” stressed the PHED Minister, urging the gathering of over a thousand students, teachers, parents and officials, to wash hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet.
The Minister for Education, Mr Gautam Bora, launched the celebrations at Sanpara School, Kamrup (Rural), some 35 kilometres from the state capital, in the presence of Mission Director, Assam Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Ms LS Changsan, Chief Engineer, PHED, Mr Atul Bora, UNICEF Assam Chief, Ms Jeroo Master, and gathered officials, students, local community, PRIs and media.
The Minister highlighted that the PHE Department, the nodal agency for Total Sanitation Campaign in the state, had joined hands with the flagship education programme Assam Sarva Siksha Abhiyan Mission and UNICEF to ensure better water and sanitation facilities in all elementary schools in the state.
The Minister then inaugurated the first Inclusive Model of School Toilet at the Sanpara School, amidst the blowing of conch shells, a traditional way of marking auspicious occasions and new beginnings in the region.
“The building of the new design of toilet marks a new beginning for the school sanitation facilities,” said the school headmaster, Mr Shantiram Kalita, pointing excitedly, to the slogan, ‘No Sanitation, No Health; Know Sanitation, Know Health,’ hand-painted prominently on the newly-constructed toilet block.
“The innovative model has been constructed under a pilot initiative of the the SSA and PHED, with UNICEF collaboration, informed the Ms LS Changsan, Mission Director, SSA, highlighting the special features of the Inclusive design.
“The Inclusive design, addresses the needs of boys and girls, including adolescents and children with disability. It has separate units for both boys and girls, with some storage space and doors for privacy for the special needs of growing girls, a ramp for easy access by physically-challenged children. Most importantly, it has running water to facilitate regular cleaning and handwashing.”
Eager to use the new facility, students queued up outside the toilet, taking turns to wash hands under running water in a wash-basin, which for many, was a novel experience.
“I am really happy that that we will now have water available all the time to wash our hands,” remarked 12 years old, Nisha Das, her bright eyes, sparkling with joy. “If we wash hands properly, we will fall sick less often,” she added matter-of-factly.
Clearly, Nisha and most of her school mates were quite aware of the need to wash hands and also the proper way to do so.
This was amply demonstrated when asked by Ms Jeroo Master, Chief, UNICEF Field Office, Assam. The entire school, from class 1 to class seven, stood up, and demonstrated each step, one by one, in near-perfect synchronisation.
“You know how to do it. But will you do it ?” asked Ms Master, `WE WILL,’ resounded their emphatic commitment, in one voice, filling up the air with a spirited synergy.