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Children of Valsad take action

© UNICEF/ Hinaben/ 2008
Handpump being repaired in Sherimal Primary School

Gurinder Gulati

Valsad district, Gujarat: The handpumps of Sherimal primary school in Valsad district of Gujarat which had been out of order for more than one year are now functional. This has been possible because of the initiative of the school children. 

The school has two handpumps which provide water for drinking, cooking mid-day meals and washing hands. However, both were not working and children had to either carry water from their homes or fetch it from a long distance, so that they could use the sanitation facility in the school. This affected their studies.

Impressed by the initiative taken by the children to resolve the problem, Nanubhai, the local Panchayat leader, immediately directed a mechanic to repair the handpumps.  As a result, both handpumps have now been repaired and are functioning, saving the children tremendous hardship and time.

A group of 20 children from Sherimal school, trained under UNICEF-supported “Bal Mitra” (Friends of Children) programme in Valsad district, decided to approach the school authorities and local Panchayat (Village self-government) to rectify the handpumps, so that safe water could be made available. With able guidance from one of the “Bal Mitra” programme trainers, they prepared and submitted a joint petition to the School Principal, explaining the problem and how it affected their studies. A copy of the petition was also handed over to the local Panchayat and the water supply authorities.

There is a visible sense of accomplishment and confidence among the children for being able to resolve their problems through collective action.

In Valsad, around 800 children from 50 villages have been trained by CHETNA, an NGO in Gujarat, under the UNICEF-supported “Bal Mitra” programme. They have been empowered to identify and resolve issues concerning their rights.

© UNICEF/ Gurinder Gulati/ 2008
Children viewing the exhibition at the convention

They undertook surveys in their villages, and prepared newsletters, posters, booklets and pamphlets to draw attention of the community and local authorities to the situation of the children in their community.

“I am really impressed by the interest taken by the children in raising development issues, particularly concerning children themselves, in their village.  I will see to it that these are attended to immediately”, assured Mr I.A. Vora, District Development Officer.

A district level convention was organized to provide an opportunity to the children (Bal Mitras) to share their experiences. The District Development Officer and Chief District Health Officer attended the convention and addressed the children. An exhibition of posters highlighting issues such as lack of sanitation, unsafe water, use of non-iodized salt, early marriage, and prevalence of diseases like malaria, diarrhea, etc. was put up at the venue. The convention was conducted by children themselves, who also made presentations.

The “Bal Mitra” initiative, which provides a platform to young children to express themselves and participate in development, is taking root in Valsad district and will be expanded gradually to all the villages of the district, says UNICEF State Representative, Dr. Yogendra Mathur.

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