Happy schools, minds & bodies

From right: PDG Bharat Pandya, PDG J B ­Kamdar, PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, Usha Saboo, PDG Raja Seenivasan and Marlene Kamdar.

Co-incidentally, just when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call on Swachh Bharat, Rotary International was also introducing its WASH in Schools (WinS) programmes in some countries, including India, TRF Trustee and WinS Chair Sushil Gupta said, addressing a session on Swachh Bharat at the Kolkata Presidential Conference on Literacy and WinS.

This is a game-changing programme which addresses three of the six focus areas of Rotary; water and sanitation, basic education and literacy and disease prevention and health care. “This new initiative of Rotary is totally in sync with Swachh Bharat, Swachh Vidyalaya programme, the key focus of which is to usher in well-maintained and functioning water and sanitation facilities in all the 1.4 million ­government schools in the country.” This in turn would inculcate in children cleanliness and “make them change agents to usher in behavioural change in our society.”

But I am missing one person, a person whose dream (on literacy) we are seeing being realised …. and that person is Kalyan Banerjee.
Rajendra K Saboo

Gupta said that Nadiya district, near Kolkata, had become cent per cent free of open defecation. It all began by introducing better hygiene practices in schools and the “children then forced their parents first and then the whole community to change. That is the power of children to change society.”

He said TRF has started WinS under the guidance of UNICEF as a pilot in countries such as India, ­Guatemala, Kenya and Honduras. Rotary India was committed to working on 10,000 schools this year and “we’ll deliver that number very soon.”

PRID Ashok Mahajan signs an MoU with Chaitali Moitra, VP (Sales — Schools), representing Macmillan Publishers India Private Limited. Also present (from right) PRID Panduranga Setty, PDG Devang Thakore, PRID Shekhar Mehta, PDG N Asoka and PDG Rajani Mukherjee.

Gupta urged Rotarians to implement this project in its totality, as its objective was beyond just building of toilet blocks. “We have to ensure clean water, separate facilities for girls, imparting of proper hygiene training and involving school management in the entire programme.”

It is estimated that 30 to 40 per cent girls drop out of schools at puberty because they do not have separate toilets essential for menstrual hygiene management. “There is also no education on how to deal with this major change in the lives of girls at puberty. Also, many students skip their schools because of water-borne diseases.”

I don’t know about all of you but my hand washing has also improved after starting the WinS programme!
Sushil Gupta

Ultimately the success of WinS, when implemented properly, would improve retention of children in schools and “pave the way for a new and healthy generation. But it takes determination, courage and passion on our part to create these agents of change,” Gupta said, adding in a lighter vein, “I don’t know about you but my hand washing has also improved after starting this programme!”

Addressing the session on “­Swachh Bharat — our commitment,” PRIP Rajendra K Saboo lauded the conference, the speakers and the new ideas thrown up on both Literacy and WinS. “But I am missing one person, a person whose dream we are seeing being realised …. and that person is (PRIP) Kalyan Banerjee.”

He had “happy memories” of his childhood in Kolkata. Also firmly etched in his memory was the experience of watching Mother Teresa’s last journey in the same Netaji Indoor Stadium, where he had gone to pay his last respects to “that frail lady who by her sheer willpower, devotion and dedication had won the whole world. She believed in cleanliness of the body … that every person who is dying must be cleaned before their last rites.”

Along with a healthy mind that stored happy memories a healthy body was required, as also a healthy environment to live in. He said that while the WinS goals and execution was admirable, the Rotary community also needs to revisit the oath Rotarians had taken at the Chennai Institute on ­Swachh Bharat in 2014. He recalled how the Surat plague of 1994, caused by ­indiscriminate disposal of garbage on roads, had resulted in the city’s total transformation. “Today, Surat is one of the cleanest cities in Gujarat and India.”

TRF Trustee Chair Sushil Gupta with RILM Secretary PDG Anirudha Roy Chowdhury.
TRF Trustee Chair Sushil Gupta with RILM Secretary PDG Anirudha Roy Chowdhury.

Sharing his experience from a recent medical mission to Rwanda, in which RI President K R Ravindran had participated, Saboo said that Rwanda, a country where an estimated one million people had been killed in 100 days in 1994, “taught me something. From then onwards, the leadership realised the importance of reconciliation. Today you can’t find a single piece of garbage on their roads. You don’t find individuals throwing litter anywhere. Their hospitals do not smell.”

Periodically, the citizens have to clean the streets or do community service, Saboo said, and reminded Rotarians that their Chennai pledge obliged them to donate two hours a week or 100 hours a year for the ­Swachh Bharat initiative. “We have to ask ourselves if the oath taken at Chennai was to please the PM or our own conscience … or give us a good feel that we’ve done something we can boast about.” Unless we recognised that Swachh Bharat was serious business and not “just a slogan or a political gimmick, and consider it our commitment, we won’t get anywhere. My home is not just four walls, it is my neighbourhood, my city, my country.”

Chairing the session PRID Yash Pal Das said that if we want to see all our children educated, we should ensure they go to happy and well- equipped schools. “Would you like to go to a school where the ceiling is leaking, where there are no benches and you have to sit on the floor, where there is constant stench from the toilets, no library, no clean drinking water? Certainly not because these are unhappy schools.”

Unless a child was happy, he wouldn’t learn well. RILM’s objective was to convert all “unhappy schools into happy schools. Our mission is to have separate toilets for boys and girls, fresh and clean drinking water, desks and benches, uniforms and shoes, libraries and playgrounds. Our target is to convert 1,000 unhappy schools into happy schools with a budget of about Rs 50 crore. The task seemed impossible but with the combined effort of Rotary and Inner Wheel, 733 schools have already been converted into happy schools.”

Some districts which had excelled in this initiative were 3190, 3051, 3140 and 3060, Das added.

Addressing the inaugural session, TRF Trustee Chair Ray Klinginsmith said that this was the fourth Presidential Conference of K R Ravindran. The first one, on Peace and Conflict Resolution, was in Ontario, California; the second, in Cannes, France, on disease prevention and treatment; the third in Cape Town, South Africa on economic development, and the fifth one is being held in Manila, Philippines, again on water and sanitation.

Last year when he was in India  — he’s been coming here for 30 years — he was struck by the close bond between Rotary and India. “I am now writing an article on ‘Rotary has changed India and India has changed Rotary.’ I’ll finish it and send it to Rotary News!”

Saying service projects of any kind, particularly WinS, in South Asia are “bigger, better and bolder than any other place in the world,” ­Klinginsmith said “during polio ­eradication, you (Indian Rotarians) showed us how you can immunise 100 million children in a single week. You’ve raised our aspirations.”

Addressing the inaugural session on ‘Reshaping our approach to Education,’ eminent educationist Sraddhalu Ranade, enumerated several innovative ways to evolve a “new approach to education, which will empower children to become self-dependent leaders and not dependent followers.” While industrial education aims at “rational and only partial development,” an integral approach to education will result in increasing creativity and achieving our “deepest and highest potential and fulfilment in life.” Education should also be “self driven” to get best results, he said.

Explaining RILM’s role in adult literacy, PRID Ashok Mahajan said over 100 adult literacy centres had been established and both Rotary and non-Rotary volunteers were involved in this task. Exams were conducted and there was an 81 per cent pass rate. “Over the next five years, we are going to make 10 lakh illiterate adults literate.”

Service projects of any kind, particularly WinS, in South Asia, are bigger, better and bolder than any other place in the world.
–  Ray Klinginsmith


But, added Mahajan, when it came to adult literacy, “there is need to also improve their skills and livelihood opportunities.” RILM was exploring different ways to do this and had signed an MoU at the conference with the Maharashtra Knowledge Development Corporation to provide skills to 50,000 adults.

PRID Sudarshan Agarwal recounted how through the Him Jyothi School many girls from disadvantaged families had been empowered. This initiative had shown that education was a great leveller. PRID Panduranga Setty chaired a session on ‘Teacher Support’ and PRID P T Prabhakar addressed a session on WinS.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

Much more than just toilets

It was a slightly exasperated WinS Chair Sushil Gupta who addressed the Swachh Bharat session in Kolkata. He said almost all RI Districts in India were involved in Rotary’s commitment to build clean and hygienic toilets in 10,000 schools this year.

“We’ve already entered 7,000 schools. But still there is lack of clarity when it comes to looking at the project in its totality.” Some districts were building toilets, some are doing hand wash stations, some others were putting incinerators for menstrual waste and yet others concentrating on potable water supply. “But please understand that our objective is not just building toilet blocks. I repeat we have to get out of the mentality that our objective begins and ends with toilet blocks. We are entering schools to improve them, our WASH in Schools involves complete water sanitation and hygiene. I want to emphasise that group hand washing stations are not meant to be used only after a child uses a toilet but also before and after midday meals.”

The idea was to make washing of hands a habit in children before and after their midday meals “so that we inculcate the habit of cleanliness in our children. WinS provides a healthy and protective school environment to prevent diseases. It promotes equity by showing all children have access to these facilities which will help them to reach their full potential. Mere building of toilet blocks is not enough, our real objective is to bring about behavioural change and this will come only if you run the programme in full and not in parts.”

Only then would children become agents of change, and change “their families and communities, so that we can truly make our country Swachh Bharat and Samriddha Bharat,” concluded Gupta.

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