Ravi and Rekha, the school students from Rajasthan who represented India at the global conference on water and sanitation in U.K.
At dusk, the people of Alamdika, a remote village in Rajasthan, waited excitedly, with kerosene lamps, flowers and garlands on the highway from Delhi. The occasion was the home coming of two teenaged champions- Rekha and Ravi - both students in government schools. Indeed Rekha, an eighth standard student, is the new icon of success in the village because she was coming home after representing their country in a global conference in the United Kingdom. In her village, many of the elders in her village have not even seen Jaipur - the state capital. The people of Rekha’s village were so excited when they learned of her trip that they collected Rs. 5000 (approx $115) for to give her as pocket money for the trip.Both girls were returning from attending the Roundtable on School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SWSHE), held in Oxford, UK, from 24-26 January, 2005. The conference was coordinated by UNICEF and co-hosted by International Reference Centre (IRC), Delft; Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Geneva and OXFAM, UK - all partners of UNICEF and committed to the Water, Sanitation and Education Millennium Development Goals. The other participating countries were Laos, Tajikistan, Sudan, Uganda, Mozambique, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Nicaragua.
School sanitation is being promoted by UNICEF’s Office for Rajasthan in more than half of the 4300 schools in Alwar and Tonk districts of Rajsthan. The State’s Council for Primary Education and Public Health Engineering Department are partners in this project. Teachers are trained in sanitation and then in turn, educate children in hygiene, sanitation and water use. Children learn that washing hands before eating and after going to the toilet wards off disease and they go back and tell their parents and elders about it, so that everyone is more careful. Water is a scarce resource in these semi-arid areas and children are taught how rain water can be conserved and used later for drinking during the dry season. Teachers are also trained in the construction of toilets, urinals & handwashing facilities, so that they can supervise construction and help maintain them. Funds for construction are now coming from the national and state governments and all schools in the state will have drinking water and sanitation facilities by 2007.
People of Alamdika village celebrating the return of the two students
To encourage children to take decisions relating to their immediate environment “cabinets” are constituted in every school and appointed Health ministers then become responsible to monitor personal hygiene through their peers- called “sanitation scouts” with support from the government with support from the health workers of the state health department. Teachers conduct quizzes and competitions to commemorate important national days such as Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2nd October - Gandhi was one of the most passionate champions of sanitation- or the national independence day on 15th August.
Rekha and Ravi emerged as champions from Alwar and Tonk SWSHE programme schools, two of the eight Upper Primary Schools which had performed best on hygiene and sanitation indicators. Five girls and five boys from amongst the sanitation “scouts” were short-listed, through the competition (including written test and subsequently an oral test) on hygiene and sanitation. The final selection of the two children Rekha and Ravi was done jointly by UNICEF and Government of Rajasthan.
UNICEF organized an interaction of the local media with these celebrities. Rekha and Ravi told the media how they had met little “ambassadors” from other countries at the meeting at Oxford. Although they were unable to understand each others language both children spoke passionately about their experiences. Rekha talked passionately about hygiene and hand washing in her native Hindi and Ravi talked about the important role of children in changing the world. The children were struck by the similarity in thinking of children from across the world.
Rekha wants to be a teacher, when she grows up and Ravi wants to be a Collector- the highest government official in any Indian district. The celebrity status of the two children has become a great trigger for other children and teachers associated with the School Sanitation programme in the districts. A small trip for children seems to have launched a great journey for the people of Rajasthan, towards better health.
UNICEF Communication Officer, Rajasthan