When mirrors helped keep toilets clean!


When a Rotary club in the northern part of ­Guatemala, one of the five target challenge countries for implementing Rotary International’s WASH in Schools (WinS) programme, put up “flawless and well-built” gender segregated toilets in a village school, one of the Rotarians came up with the idea of putting up mirrors in the girls’ toilets.

“This is something not done regularly in public schools; I don’t remember seeing mirrors in the toilets in schools. The result was that the girls did not stop going to the rest rooms to see themselves in the mirror and took care of the toilet like never before!”

This information was shared by District 4250 DGE Julio Grazioso, who heads the WinS programme in the three of the five target challenge countries — Belize, Guatemala and Honduras — at the breakout session at the Atlanta Convention titled Creating Quality Education Programmes through WASH in Schools.

The mirror scheme became so popular “that they had to put mirrors in the boys’ restrooms as well! While this addition may not seem important, when this new element was incorporated by Rotarians in the school toilet, it had an impact even on school attendance,” he added. The other two countries in the target challenge are India and Kenya.

$15 million spent in 48 countries

Presiding over the session, TRF Trustee and RI’s WinS Committee Chief Sushil Gupta  said that since 2010, The Rotary Foundation has invested $15 million in over 200 WASH in Schools projects in 48 countries. “So this is not a new programme, but we have given it a new shape. Target challenge aims to give this programme a momentum and encourages Rotarians to take their energy to the next level.”

The pilot in these five countries was 18 months under way and “we’ve seen so much passion and energy in the programme.”

Rotarians in India were working with the Indian Government to take this programme forward in 15,000 schools and till now three million children had benefitted. Also, Rotary had joined hands with GoI “to take this programme to another 500 schools under the Clean Ganga water mission, a prestigious programme of the Indian government to clean River Ganges,” Gupta said.

The excitement and energy in the WinS programme is so high that our model in the pilot is being used in countries outside the pilot such as Mexico, Philippines and Uganda.
— WinS Global Chair Sushil Gupta

He added that the excitement and energy in the WinS programme was so high that “our model in the pilot is being used in countries outside the pilot such as Mexico, Philippines and Uganda.”

Saying that the interest in grants geared towards implementing holistic projects in schools is increasing, Gupta disclosed that 42 of the 273 Water and Sanitation grants in 2015–16 were dedicated to WinS.

WinS challenge in India

Giving details of the WinS project in India, PDG Ramesh Aggarwal, ­Member Secretary of Rotary India WinS Committee, and member, RI WinS Committee, said that India had 1.45 million schools, with one in a radius of every two to three miles, and 113 million children went to school every day to “learn, play and eat and providing them a conducive environment to do so is the challenge. Every 20 seconds, a child dies in India; over 1,000 children die every day due to poor water sanitation and hygiene facilities in many areas.”

A big cause for this worrying statistic was that many schools have “child unfriendly water and sanitation facilities, many of which are either vandalised or are dysfunctional.”

India has 1.45 million schools, and 113 million children go to school every day to learn, play and eat and providing them a conducive environment to do so is the challenge.
PDG Ramesh Aggarwal

Another major problem was 600 million people defecating in the open, “60 per cent of the world’s open defecation takes place in India; six million children are estimated to be out of schools and 1.4 million children die before turning five.”

Taking this “huge challenge” into account, Indian Prime Minister ­Narendra Modi had launched a ‘Clean India Clean Schools’ campaign to ensure every school has a basic water and sanitation facility and he had also appealed to corporates and NGOs to support this initiative.

Schools in India did have a basic gender segregated toilet but the challenge was operating and maintaining the water and sanitation facilities to ensure a clean and hygienic environment for the children, said Aggarwal.

Huge water shortage in Kenya 

District 9212 DGN Jeffery Bamford, who leads the pilot in Kenya, one of the five target challenge countries, said in Kenya “we have a situation where most schools don’t have the necessary facilities. We have recently adopted free schooling for primary schools but there is inadequate funding from the government for water and sanitation facilities. Water shortage is a big problem particularly in rural areas.”

In many areas children consumed water that was not tested and the result was diseases such as cholera.

Maintaining that unique solutions have to be found for particular problems he said that in one particular school when the Rotarians gave “sanitary pads to the girls, the boys were jealous, so we provided them with underpants because most of them didn’t have underpants, and they were happy. This taught us that when you have a particular problem, you learn to deal with it.”

He called for partnerships and help from other regions of the world to improve the situation in Kenya, where there are huge health care challenges. One of these was dental problems, and Rotarians have incorporated oral hygiene and screening for dental problems in their work in schools.

“For a population of 43 million we have less than 1,000 dentists. And we have a song on teeth cleaning similar to the one in India for handwashing,” said Bamford.

So the District’s Rotarians, in partnership with Rotarians from Districts 5160 (Northern California) and 6150 (Central and Northern Arkansas), had implemented the project ‘Kenya Smiles,’ “which is a simple, scalable and sustainable project for comprehensive oral health and nutrition programme.”

Incorporating WinS message in curriculum

Giving an overview of the programme’s challenges in the target countries, Mary Jo Jean-Francois, Area of Focus Manager (Basic Education and Literacy) and WinS Target Challenge Co-manager, said “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to schools in some of these countries where teachers say you seem like a very good woman who has come from the US to help us. But we have just four hours a day and a national exam at the end of the year which the students have to pass. So if we had a choice whether to teach them math, science or reading or washing their hands, I am going to go for the math and science because the children have to pass their exams.”

She overcame this challenge by telling the teachers to incorporate some of the components on WinS in one of their subjects, such as reading. For instance, while teaching a child how to read, a story could be told about a community which was sick because the people were not washing their hands properly. “So while still teaching a subject, our WinS goals can be achieved.”

Aggarwal added that in India 113 million children were being given a free noon meal everyday and this had a very big impact on school attendance and preventing dropouts.

“We are establishing Bal Sansad or child cabinets to give leadership qualities to the children, and one of their responsibilities is to ensure that the water and sanitation facilities we set up, including group handwashing stations, are maintained properly and they usher in a behavioural change.”

Concluding the session, Trustee Gupta said, “I am happy at the ­interest this programme has generated. It is rarely that we see the room so full in a breakout session!”

WinS has become an important programme because not only did it build the capacity of Rotarians for collaboration on “how to plan, design and execute a project that will have a lasting impact in our communities, but was making Rotarians come together all across the world to take the benefit of clean water, adequate sanitation facilities and better education to schools.”

The primary objective of the programme, to usher in a behavioural change, with children taking the message of proper hygiene back to their homes and communities was already happening in India.

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