Charity, they say, begins at home. In the village of Tareipatpur, Orissa, every social change howsoever small, every development plan howsoever daunting, began in the school first.
It all started nine years ago with UNICEF introducing the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education program among the students of Tareipatpur primary school, a non-descript village of Ganjam, where UNICEF sowed the idea of school sanitation and health in 1998. It germinated and grew under the care of one man - Raghunath Das, one of the two teachers of Anandamaya Primary School at the village.
Initially when UNICEF selected 14 schools from as many blocks for implementing its health and sanitation programme, Taraipatpur was left out but made it to the list later. It was Das who took up the cause and started talking to the parents on the benefits of sanitation.
He knew improving the sanitation and hygiene practices of the students would require participation of their mothers. He attended the meetings of the women’s self help groups and started talking about it.
The two toilets – separate ones for boys and girls – built at a cost of Rs 9,000 each with UNICEF assistance soon became the starting point. Das constituted the School Sanitation Committee comprising himself, five students and two parents. They came up with indicators relating to personal health of students, safe drinking water, and cleanliness of school campus and maintenance of the toilets which were regularly monitored. Responsibilities were handed out to the students and soon the word spread. The school even started maintaining a log of ailments of the students and the sanitation practices adopted in their homes.
“We geared discussions of village committees towards issues of sanitation, hygiene, thereby raising the awareness of people. Villagers were aware of the needs of their children and wanted improvement in the scheme of things. When UNICEF decided to extend a financial assistance of Rs 12,000 for building a hand-wash platform at the school under the DWSM, villagers contributed a sum of Rs 18,000 for the facility,’’ Das says.
One thing led to another and soon the community started managing the show. Besides contributing labour, they started utilizing the village development fund for school maintenance. The community has mobilized more than Rs 80,000 for the school so far.
Much to the surprise of the administration, the villagers even removed a temple which stood next to the school since the latter needed expansion.
Das, who has been recognized with President’s Award for his efforts, recalls proudly. “Such was the motivation that 68 out of 113 families now have latrines at their homes. They even contributed from the village fund to lay a pipeline to get water supply from the main supply line.”
A year back, a team of three leaders from the nearby village of Koturu visited Taraipatpur and they returned with a resolve; to ensure the participation of community in matters of the school. The sanitation and hygiene programme was such a hit at Koturu that villagers of neighboring Bipulingi and Kuaratali have started to adopt the same.
The Upper Primary School in Koturu today stands out amidst rows of tiled-roof houses. Grand by the village’s standards, it presents a picture of elegance. It’s colourful to say the least and as one enters the premises - its compound walls painted with personal health and sanitation tips for the children - the school virtually starts to speak to its visitors.
The Ganjam District Administration saw an opportunity in the making. It decided to identify 10 schools which could become role models in the Chhatrapur block.
Says Assistant Collector Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, “We want each school to create an area of influence. It took Taraipatpur more than eight years to leave its mark but Koturu took the cue. We are keen to experiment with this and keep the competition alive,” he says.
At Bipulingi, the villagers have started preparing a list of those native Oriyans who work overseas, so that funds can be sourced from them for school development.