Chandra Prabha along with Chandra Kumari eat their lunch at the amenities block at their school in Uttar Pradesh. Their school is in one of the eight districts in UP where UNICEF is working to improve sanitation with funding from IKEA Social Initiative.
By Angela Walker
SUKRIT, India, 15 October 2010 – Ram Ratan Singh Yadav is a man on a mission. But this politician’s passion might surprise you – he’s investing his local government’s money to make sure that schools under his jurisdiction are clean and child-friendly.
Yadav is a Panchayat Raj officer in the Sonbhadra District of Uttar Pradesh. At the Sukrit Primary School he proudly shows off the mid-day meal shed constructed with local government money so that students could have a clean place to eat their lunches.
The sheltered structure, complete with candy-colored taps in purple, yellow and blue at three different heights to accommodate young and old students alike, has running water where students can wash their hands with soap and their tin lunch plates before sitting down at concrete tables and benches.
“Before the students were just sitting here and there out on the open ground. It was not hygienic. Now they can all take lunch together,” says Yadav, animatedly waving his hands around as he describes the school’s transformation. “Five years back it was very dirty, and there were no toilets.”
UNICEF’s Child Environment Programme support’s the Indian Government’s flagship Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) and the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) at the state level.
Sonbhadra is one of eight districts in Uttar Pradesh (UP) where UNICEF has worked since October 2009 to improve sanitation with funding from IKEA Social Initiative (ISI). Hygiene and sanitation are promoted at child-friendly schools, while frontline workers promote proper hygiene at the household level.
“IKEA Social Initiative is partnering with UNICEF to promote the rights of every child to a healthy, secure childhood with access to quality education,” says Marianne Barner, head of ISI. “What once started as IKEA’s fight against child labour in the supply chain has developed into a broad commitment to create a better everyday life for the many children here in Uttar Pradesh and in communities throughout India.”
Initially, government data in UP indicated that 94 per cent of the schools in the district had toilets for boys and girls. But monitoring showed that in reality only 57 per cent of the toilets were found to be in use. Child-friendly toilet facilities were introduced with UNICEF support and, to date, 210 schools in Sonbhadra have introduced improved sanitation. Children are also learning the importance of good hygiene like washing their plates and hands with soap before their mid-day meal.
Yadav explains that the national government provided 40,000 rupees, or $863, to construct student latrines at the Sukrit school. Another 20,000 rupees, or $432, was needed to complete the project, which he gave from his Panchayat budget. Bright whimsical murals decorate the latrine, making it inviting for the boys and girls who use it.
UNICEF is providing technical support for the design of child-friendly toilets in schools taking into account the different needs of boys and girls. A Hygiene Education Package, with books and activity-based learning, also has been developed for schools with UNICEF support.
“Child-friendly schools help us attract children to go and stay in schools. Having a healthy learning environment is just as important as what happens in the classroom,” says Adele Khudr, the chief of field office for UP, India’s most populous state with 183 million inhabitants. “Students now know the importance of good hygiene, and they have the facilities they need to keep themselves clean and healthy.”
Chandra Prabha, 11, and her friend Chanda Kumari, 10, dig into heaping plates of rice and dahl sheltered from the hot sun in the cool shed where the 77 boys and 83 girls who attend the primary school eat their lunch.
The girls lean towards each other, mirror images in their blue uniforms, plaits and tiny nose studs, scooping up bites with their hands as they giggle and whisper together. Asked if they like their new lunch quarters they say, ‘Ji’, or ‘yes’, in unison.
“We used to eat on the ground, and mud would get onto our plates,” says Chandra shyly. “Our teacher tells us now to wash the germs off our hands before we eat so that we don’t get sick.”