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Child Sanitation Minister a Role Model in Assam

By Meital Rusdia

Sanjeev Deori, a Scheduled Tribe 10 year old boy attending Markang Kuchi Lower Primary School two hours drive from Guwahati, in Assam, was one of only a few students who didn’t raise his hand when asked whether their homes had toilets.  Despite this, he was elected Sanitation Minister in his school’s Children’s Council, a position that he is cherishing every day.

In addition to overseeing the toilets and reporting when someone has not properly washed their hands, Sanjeev pays particular attention to the students’ personal hygiene, “I make sure the students uniforms are clean, that they are bathed, and that their feet are clean.”

Thin and tall, Sanjeev wears gray shorts, a white collar shirt with a pen in its pocket, a striped belt, and a badge displaying his title.  In fact, these were all items that the School Management Committee (SMC) bought for him, when he was elected to his post, just because he showed so much courage and enthusiasm campaigning to be the school’s Sanitation Minister without even having a toilet at home or the money to buy a proper uniform.  This way the students would show him the respect he deserves in his post. 

And the campaign process is an intricate one. It starts with nominations, followed by campaigning, elections, voting, and finally appointing the elected students to one year terms.  Other positions in the Children’s Council look after water, education, culture and social welfare at the school.   

“Sanjeev takes his position incredibly seriously,” said the Headmistress, Ms. Bimala Patar, “after he repeatedly scolded and reported those children who didn’t practice good hygiene, incidents of kids not washing hands were greatly reduced.”  At his home, while he continues to advocate for his family to save up and buy a toilet, at least he feels satisfied that they have adopted hand washing and other beneficial health and hygiene practices.  

Sanjeev’s election came around the same time that UNICEF introduced its SSHE program in his school, again providing the water and sanitation facilities and the knowledge that goes along with proper use of both.  Previously the children had to get their water from an unprotected water well.  Now, thanks to the SSHE program, their drinking water is safe.

The school has 200 students, with 155 of them from Scheduled Tribes. Of those 155, at least 60% are below the poverty line.  And while Sanjeev may fall into this disadvantaged group, through his position and the SSHE program, he has found a way to make a difference by improving himself, his school, his family and his community. 

 

 

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