Meet Deepika, Harpreet and Komal: members of their newly formed school water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Club at a government run institution near Punjabi Bagh in West Delhi.
In only four months since the School WASH club started, they have information on the importance of hygiene on their fingertips, and the signs of change are visible. The idea behind the club is to form a group of children who then disseminate information, and keep a check on the hygiene and cleanliness practices of other students.
”We know all the steps of handwashing, what good hygiene practices are, and what one means by cleanliness,” says Deepika.
Water, sanitation and hygiene contribute to children’s learning and school experience in many ways. They improve cognitive function and attention; reduce days missed from school; spend more time on the learning process, and increase dignity and safety.
”When some students do not listen we do not force them or shout at them. We explain the concepts through songs and plays that staying healthy and clean is linked to their well-being and health,” says Komal.
”We even go home and tell our parents and neighbours about it. I had a cousin who often fell ill but would not wash his hands after using the toilet. When I did the drawing (F-Chart) on how germs enter our bodies if we do not wash our hands, it finally helped me convince him,” she adds.
”Even I did not know about the five steps of handwashing before I came to this school. It is heartening to see how children are adapting to the habits. I am sure we have reached almost 500 children in the school with information on hygiene and cleanliness,’’ says the principal. “The attendance has improved, and I find children more attentive.”
One of the most significant changes was on sanitation related hygiene. The school had poor toilets for its 711 students. They were temporary and unisex. There were no handwashing facilities, and the children would wash their hands at drinking water stations. But a recent renovation effort by the government brought about changes, and new toilets.
The hand hygiene awareness however, remained low, “The children would not often wash their hands and let them remain soiled. They did not know anything about hygiene and cleanliness. The School WASH club has helped us share this critical information to children,’’ says the school principal.
The work on disseminating the importance of hygiene in this and nine other schools is supported by a grant from Standard Chartered. Through this initiative, WaterAid India with assistance from Society for All Round Development aims to strengthen school institutions to effectively deliver on their responsibilities and raise awareness on handwashing and hygiene behaviours among children and in turn among their communities.
”The best thing about School WASH club is that we get to learn new things about our health and well-being in a fun way. We have studied them in books but when you can interact and dance and sing on it is so much fun,’’ adds Harpreet.