Leaving a legacy of clean India

On the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, and to commemorate the memory of Gandhiji who had dreamt of Swachh Bharat, a Wash in Schools Rotary- UNICEF seminar on Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya — Partnering for Results was organised in Delhi for DGs, DGEs and DGNs.

(From Right): RIDE C Basker, TRF Trustee and WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta, HRD Secretary Manish Garg, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma, PRIP Rajendra Saboo, Wins Vice Chair P T Prabhakar, UNICEF WASH expert Mamita Boara Thakker and PDG Ramesh Aggarwal.
(From Right): RIDE C Basker, TRF Trustee and WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta, HRD Secretary Manish Garg, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma, PRIP Rajendra Saboo, Wins Vice Chair P T Prabhakar, UNICEF WASH expert Mamita Boara Thakker and PDG Ramesh Aggarwal.

Describing it as a “stocktaking exercise”, WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta said last year Rotary had completed WinS in over 8,000 schools. “What encourages me is that everybody has travelled for this seminar, and that includes PRIP Rajendra Saboo, RIDE C Basker and PRID and Vice Chair of WinS P T Prabhakar, and all the Governors, at their own cost. That shows your commitment to the cause of WinS as well as the future of Indian children.”

He congratulated the Rotarians for committing over 14,000 schools this year.

Please don’t say we are building toilets for schools under WinS; we are doing happy schools, not just building toilet blocks.
– WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta

Apart from taking stock, the meet would discuss the road for the future, he said, and assured the leadership in the room that even though WinS had been launched as a pilot project by RI, it will not end in 2018, “and do not worry about funding from the Foundation; if you move systematically, we will ask less questions”.

The Genesis

In April 2014, TRF decided to launch a WinS programme to meet its long term goals for a “sustainable, scalable, manageable and high impact push to increase attendance in government schools through better sanitation practises and hygiene. The programme also had a fit with three of the six core areas of RI such as water and sanitation, basic education and literacy and disease prevention and treatment. All these parameters also fit in perfectly with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, Gupta said.

TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee
TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee

Gupta recalled how when he joined the Trustee Board in July 2014, “immediately the then Trustee Chair John Kenny said I know your interest in water — I am more known as a water activist — so I will give you something to do with water. But I had no idea what would land in my lap!” By a sheer coincidence, around the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call from the Red Fort for Swachh Bharat and at the Chennai Rotary Institute in December 2014, Rotary signed an MoU with Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu to build 20,000 toilet blocks in schools in two years.

I am aware that many DGs and PDGs have a concern whether to pursue literacy or WinS. As far as I am concerned, you can do either, but I’d prefer it if you did both.
– TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee

“We promised, and once we promise, we have to deliver,” said Gupta. At the RI level, a dialogue began with UNICEF as a technical partner and in April 2015, WinS was rolled out as a pilot programme; while India was chosen for Asia, and Kenya for Africa, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize were chosen for Central America. “Even though an international programme it aligns beautifully with our Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya programme.”

But, said the WinS Global Chair, “Please don’t say we are building toilets for schools under WinS; we are doing happy schools, not just building toilet blocks. And by providing clean drinking water, group hand washing stations with soap, and gender segregated toilets with assured water supply, assuring menstrual hygiene for girls, the programme was ushering in a huge change and a brighter future for our children.”

Group handwashing

Laying emphasis on group handwashing, which was bound to create a handwashing habit in children and usher in behavioural change, Gupta said: “We have a unique opportunity in the form of midday meals. No other country in the world has midday meals where so many millions of children have meal at one time.” Gupta complimented RID 3211 (Kerala) for having done 1,111 schools last year; “their target for this year is 2,222 and they are already thinking we’ll do more than that. I don’t know if any other organisation in India is doing that many schools. Polio eradication took us 25 years. These children will be agents of change for hygienic practices in the community and will bring the country out of the menace of open defecation.”

Mahatvapur yeh nahi ki vasiyat me kya mila, mahatvapur yeh hei ki virasat me kya chhod kar jaaongey.
– Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma

Dr Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, asked that even after “70 years of independence, if we are still talking about toilets, have we missed the bus? Who will take the lead? Parents, teachers, corporates?” Coming from a place in Rajasthan which faced severe water scarcity, and attending a school that was 8 km from his house, where there was no tap water available and water for the next day’s use had to be fetched from a well 2 km away, he knew the importance of water and sanitation.

(From Left): DG Narayan Nayak, WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta, PDG Ashok Bihari, PDG Jorson Fernandez and DG Vinay Raiker.
(From Left): DG Narayan Nayak, WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta, PDG Ashok Bihari, DG A Mani, PDG Jorson Fernandez and DG Vinay Raiker.

Leaving behind a legacy

He said Rotarians can be proud that “we’ve ourselves chosen this field of social work for giving back to society; nobody compelled us at gun point.” The most admirable outcome of this work would be the health benefits to future generation of girl children who were often compelled to hold back urination for lack of proper and separate toilet facilities in school. Mahatvapur yeh nahi ki vasiyat me kya mila. Mahatvapur yeh hei ki virasat me kya chhod kar jaaongey. (It is not important what you inherited; what’s important is what legacy you will leave behind), he added.

Addressing the meet, PRIP Rajendra K Saboo said it was appropriate that the GOI had adopted Gandhiji’s spectacles as a symbol of Swachh Bharat. Just as polio eradication from India had succeeded thanks to private-public partnerships, similarly for WinS, Rotary has partnered with UNICEF as also GoI. Complimenting Trustee Gupta’s leadership in WinS, he said “as he keeps saying, it is much more than making toilets or providing water. The effect of cleanliness on the country will determine its strength, image and character. Rotarains are known to walk the difficult path and I am confident we will do it.”

We will not stop after two years; we will continue our association with these schools through Interact clubs.
-WinS Vice Chair P T Prabhakar

Chairing a session, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee said that he was “aware that many DGs and PDGs have a concern whether to pursue Literacy or WinS. As far as I am concerned, you can do either, but I’d prefer it if you did both.”

But WinS, he elaborated, is a part of Happy Schools, which again, is a part of Literacy. “If you can focus on WinS, or e-learning, teacher training, child development or adult literacy, it all amounted to working for Literacy. So let it be your choice… your club’s choice, depending on your area of focus or interest, but remember that we can’t have Literacy without WinS.”

States taking ownership

HRD Joint Secretary Manish Garg said the good news was that various State governments were taking on the responsibility of maintaining school toilets. Some States have even linked it to social forestry. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, some schools have developed small nurseries on their campuses in collaboration with the Forests department, and the income from those nurseries will be used for maintenance of toilets. Some other States were providing funds for monthly maintenance and cleaning. The HRD, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water and Sanitation ministries had issued guidelines that the repair and maintenance of school toilets should be a priority programme of the panchayats, in view of the large allotments of funds given to local bodies and panchayats now.

A view of the audience.
A view of the audience.

He said the recently launched Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar, in collaboration with UNICEF, has school sanitation ratings, under which every school rates itself on the basis of 39 parameters. “In less than 30 days, 3 lakh schools have participated in this rating, where schools are rated as green, blue, yellow, orange and red.”

Slowly the awareness was coming in. Recently the Quality Council of India did a survey in 100 of the best districts in India and found that 90 per of toilets are being used. “That speaks a lot on how this campaign is working. They also visited the schools and said the community was involved in the maintenance of the school toilets.” With the community and the school management getting involved, behavioural change is taking place and children are motivating households to go for toilets. “In Rajasthan nearly 15 lakh children wrote on a single day to their parents from school that they need a good functional toilet in their homes. This is the impact the Swachh Bharat campaign is having. It is not just a government programme; society is getting involved along with various civil society organisations,” Garg added.

About 1.4 million children die before they turn 5. These are the consequences of not having proper water supply and sanitation facilities in our schools.
– PDG Ramesh Aggarwal

Daunting task

WinS Vice Chair and PRID P T Prabhakar gave an assurance that even after two years, Rotary would not abandon the schools where it built toilet blocks. “We will continue our association with these schools through Interact clubs.” He said a major weakness in Rotary was that as the District and club leadership changed every year, there was a time lag before the new leadership takes over, and some inertia can creep in while sustaining the previous year’s programmes. But Rotarians should guard against this.

But when the vision was to equip all schools with toilets, with there being 1.4 million plus schools, and 400,000 schools needing attention, “the task is daunting. Also, only 51 per cent schools have designated handwashing stations, so we have to work on the remaining 49 per cent; only 12 per cent have soap and detergent.” But instead of looking at it as a challenge, we should consider it an opportunity.

What would also help was that “WinS is a focused project of TRF with funding support, and you can also fund WinS projects with your DDFs,” Prabhakar added.

Children enact a short skit to explain WinS.
Children enact a short skit to explain WinS.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that as a Rotarian, and before that, an Interactor, “I feel like I am with my family”. It was great that Rotarians had undertaken the “responsibility to fulfil the vision of Gandhiji and the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” Giving separate toilets to girl students was imperative, as women in the slums, even in Delhi, get up at dawn for their toilet needs and “often during festivals, even skip their food so that they do not need to use the toilet. Right from childhood, girls are trained: you just can’t go anywhere, learn to control.” This is not necessary for boys. The damage that toxins, not regularly expelled from the body, can cause to health is well known.

Dysfunctional, vandalised toilets

Ramesh Aggarwal, Member Secretary, Rotary India WinS , said India has 1.47 million schools with 130 million children, and the challenge is that a vast majority as confronted with “dysfunctional, child-unfriendly and vandalised toilets, and lack of water and sanitation facilities.”

A grim reality is that today 600 million defecate in the open and six million children are out of schools. About 1.4 million children die before they turn 5. These are the consequences of not having proper water supply and sanitation facilities in our schools.

Aggarwal said not only do toilets have “poor designs which are not child friendly, hardly Rs 7,500–12,500 are allotted for operation and maintenance for a year and that includes repair of the school building! How are you going to maintain water and sanitation facilities with this meagre amount? Our role is not just building, our role is also advocacy, reaching out to governments, policy makers and influencing them to ensure that we have proper sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools.”

Creating community ownership

The crucial issue was to create a sense of ownership in the community and the teachers. The three core elements to make this programme “sustainable and successful are to engage and empower the students, professional management of the facilities and monitoring whether everything is functioning.”

UNICEF WASH specialist Mamita Bora Thakker said providing gender segregated toilets in schools was very important as it ensured that girls did not drop out at puberty. “If the girl child stays in school, the problem of early child marriage is addressed and once that is taken care of, she delivers healthy children. So we are talking about a healthy generation.”

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

From local to global

In a speech laced with humour, and regaling Rotary leaders at the WinS meet in Delhi on the kind of toil the top leadership has to carry out while serving the community, Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma had the audience in splits. He said that he had met Ramesh Aggarwal at a Rotary function when he was DG.  “Madam Ramesh was also with him. It was 9.30 or 10.30 pm, and they were talking about how he was going from this to that place; from shamshan ghat to toilet cleaning… and I thought that divorce tau pucca hei, aaj kal nahi tau do char saal me zuroor ho jayega. Lekin hua nahi. Ab Rameshji ki yeh halat thi, toh Sushilji (TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta), jo global ho gaye, unki kya halat hogi? (His divorce is certain, if not today, then after a few years. If this is Aggarwal’s plight, you can imagine the plight of Sushil Gupta, who is Global WinS Chair).

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