In India, 40% of the population still performs open defecation (World Bank, 2015) and sanitation problems are a major source of health issues which affect children, preventing them from attending school. AWARE (Achieving WASH- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Rights to Education) is a project that Hope for Children is supporting in Telangana, a state in south-east India. It is working to increase awareness about sanitation and hygiene among children to achieve better health outcomes and reduce absenteeism in schools due to health-related issues.
This project is being implemented in a total of 13 schools, ranging from primary to senior. In the past 6 months we have successfully educated 187 children and 14 teachers directly about the importance of sanitation. This also includes directly toilet-training children of various age groups with the help of teachers and school helpers. 143 children have learned good habits when it comes to toilet usage.
To ensure ongoing discourse, 8 AWARE clubs have also been formed in primary and secondary schools. The members of these clubs include the children, male and female teachers, and sanitary workers in the schools, who work on informing the other children in the school about proper hygienic behaviour, related to areas such as hand-washing and toilet usage.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) involves directly educating girls about menstrual hygiene and cleanliness, enabling more girls to comfortably attend school during their periods, something which they were unable to do before. The open discussion of MHM has been an eye-opener for both men and women participants and has promoted the extreme importance of cleanliness during menstruation, emphasised the relationship between menstrual health and education, and worked on removing the discriminatory cultural practices against menstruating women.
For this focus on sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health to work, the proper infrastructure in terms of washrooms should also be present, therefore we will also be constructing child-friendly infrastructure.
We have successfully disseminated information on MHM and WASH using materials such as teacher manuals, workbooks and posters, which the teachers found very useful. They now understand the importance of promoting the habit of using toilets from a young age.
All international programmes throw up challenges, and AWARE has been no exception. Since the project began it has become clear that we will need to find more ways to motivate the School Management Committee members to take more initiative in the management and maintenance of the sanitary facilities installed in the schools. Fortunately, the fact that we work with local partners means we are well placed to do this.
The project will now focus on following up the different training programmes. This involves conducting focus-group discussions to understand the extent of the children’s understanding and whether this trickles down to behavioural change in their families. The discussions will also focus on girls and their understanding and implementation of menstrual hygiene practices. A major emphasis will also be given to the construction of sanitation infrastructure and ensuring their regular maintenance by actively involving the management of the school.
By bringing about change one person at a time, we hope to improve these children’s access to education and plant the seeds of progress for sanitation in rural India.
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Renu is a local teacher who is working to transform sanitation practices in her community after attending a teacher training programme.