Patna: The aesthetic and physical environment of a school is directly proportional to the physiological and psychological development of students and staff members. Not only this but having a clean and hygienic premises in school helps in improving the motivation of parents to enroll their children. 

In this context, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in schools hold significance; they contribute positively to childrens health, education and overall well-being. 

UNICEF in collaboration with PHIA (Partnering Hope into Action) Foundation and Bihar Education Project Council has been working closely in 20 Schools each from Purnea and Sitamarhi districts for improved water sanitation and hygiene services so as to develop them as replicable models. The intervention includes both hardware as well as software activities to create an enabling environment in the schools through a holistic approach. The WASH infrastructure in schools including retrofitting of toilets, drinking water facilities, handwashing stations, solid and liquid waste management systems have been put in place. Considering the significance of climate change and environmental sustainability (CCES), rainwater harvesting structures, grey water management systems as well as solid waste management systems have been emphasized during the intervention. Teachers, children and the members of Child Cabinet and Meena manch have been capacitated on WASH and CCES intervention in the schools. 

Adarsh Ramanand Madhya Vidyalaya, Garhbanaili in Kasba block in Purnea district is one such school that is well equipped with the WASH services like handwashing stations, gender segregated toilets including disabled-friendly toilet, soak pits, waste management unit and rooftop rainwater harvesting system. 
Jalaj Lochan, Headmaster of the school proudly said that the support being extended by PHIA Foundation has positively transformed the school environment. Earlier, children, especially girls were hesitant to use toilets due to the poor condition and damages in the toilets. Therefore, the existing toilets have been retrofitted and made child friendly. In addition, a toilet dedicated to children with special needs has also been constructed, and the multi-tap handwashing station has been retrofitted to make it accessible to all children as well as water efficient. 
“Besides ensuring the availability of soaps, the 6-steps of handwashing have been illustrated on the wall of the handwashing station to inculcate the practice of hand washing with soap amongst the students.

Improving the provision of potable water, construction of soak pits, rainwater harvesting system, arrangement of dustbins in different corners of the campus including a separate dustbin for each classroom, etc. are the new developments which have been well-received by the students as well as appreciated by the parents,” he added. 

Increased awareness among the children

Rishabh Kumar, a std. VIII student of Adarsh Ramanand Madhya Vidyalaya is very happy with these developments in his school. Being a member of the Baal Sansad (Child Cabinet), he along with other members regularly sensitizes the fellow students regarding the importance of handwashing with soaps through demonstrating the necessary steps for the same. 

Along with Baal Sansad, Meena Manch also plays an active role in creating awareness amongst the children. A member of Meena Manch, Soni Kumari of std. VII said that thanks to the regular discussion on this issue and constant monitoring of handwashing through Baal Sansad and Meena Manch, most of the students have become well aware of appropriate handwashing practices. Post retrofitting, the handwashing station has become more user-friendly. In addition to using it, we are also vigilant that nobody could damage the taps.     

Improved Attendance

Generally, school hygiene is considered a determinant of overall school attendance. Jalaj Lochan informed that owing to the better provision of WASH services, attendance has considerably improved as less number of students are falling sick and girls have not to be worried about using the toilets. In fact, general distaste for attending a school having cleanliness and hygiene related problems is no more an issue. Other schools covered under the project have also shown a positive trend towards better attendance.  

Shreya Suhani, a std. VII student of Adarsh Ramanand Madhya Vidyalaya said that I used to avoid using the toilet, especially during the menstruation cycle. But now with the refurnished toilets having the newly added provision of sanitary pads and the installation of incinerator to dispose them off after use, I don’t need to go home anymore. It has been a great help for us (girl students) and resulted in saving our 2-3 days of schooling every month.     

Change in children’s behaviour 

Qualitative transformation in children’s behaviour towards WASH practices has been observed across all 40 schools. Rajesh Paswan, Headmaster of Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya, Dogachchhi in Kasba block opined that the combination of adequate water and sanitation facilities besides inculcating the sense of ownership amongst the students have resulted in correct behavioural practices. Nodal teachers played a crucial role in inculcating WASH and menstrual hygiene management behaviours among the children. Further, both Baal Sansad and Meena Manch have amplified these messages on a day-to-day basis in the school. 

Vidya Prasad Singh, Headmaster of Madhya Vidyalaya Malhariya in the same block added that we have also ensured the community participation through organizing regular meetings with the community including the PRI members. It has resulted in conveying to and convincing the community to a large extent that these measures are critical for securing the good health, learning, and overall development of children. 

Children as Change Agent 

Sudhakar Reddy, WASH Officer, UNICEF Bihar said that as the children spend a significant amount of time in schools, it is the best place to learn, practice and inculcate good WASH behaviours. Further, the benefits go beyond the classroom as the children can positively influence the behaviours of their family and community members by carrying these messages back to them. They can act as change agents. He also stated that UNICEF has been extending necessary technical support to the government counterparts for improved WASH services in schools to be able to create a safe and hygienic environment for children.The current initiative will contribute towards making schools as fully WASH compliant as per the State specific WASH in Schools benchmarking system under the name of Bihar Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar.