|© UNICEF India/2010/Crouch|
|Chandra Prabha (left), 11, and Chandra Kumari,10, eat their lunch in a hygienic new structure at the Sukrit Primary School in Uttar Pradesh state, India.|
By Angela Walker
SUKRIT, India, 14 October 2010 – Ram Ratan Singh Yadav is a man on a mission. But this politician’s passion might surprise you – he is investing his local government’s money to make sure that schools under his jurisdiction are clean and child-friendly.
Mr. Yadav is a ‘Panchayat Raj,’ or local political officer in the Sonbhadra District of India’s Uttar Pradesh state. At the Sukrit Primary School, he proudly shows off the mid-day meal shed constructed with local government money. Because of the shed, students now have a safe place to eat their lunches.
Promoting proper hygiene
The sheltered structure, complete with candy-colored water taps at different height levels, has running water where students can wash their hands with soap along with their tin lunch plates before sitting down at the concrete tables and benches.
“Before, the students were just sitting here and there out on the open ground,” said Mr. Yadav. “It was not hygienic. Now they can all take lunch together.” He added that several years ago, the school also lacked toilets.
Sonbhadra is one of eight districts in Uttar Pradesh where UNICEF has worked since October 2009 to improve sanitation with funding from the IKEA Social Initiative, the corporate philanthropy arm of the international home-furnishings retailer. Hygiene and sanitation are emphasized at child-friendly schools, while frontline workers focus on promoting proper hygiene at the household level.
|© UNICEF India/2010/Crouch|
|Ram Ratan Singh Yadav (centre) is investing local government funds to ensure that primary schools are clean and child-friendly.|
“IKEA Social Initiative is partnering with UNICEF to promote the rights of every child to a healthy, secure childhood with access to quality education,” said Head of the Ikea Social Initiative Marianne Barner. “What once started as IKEA’s fight against child labour in the supply chain has developed into a broad commitment to create a better everyday life for the many children here in Uttar Pradesh and in communities throughout India.”
Strides made in hygiene
Initially, government data in Uttar Pradesh indicated that 94 per cent of the schools in the district had toilets for boys and girls. But monitoring revealed that in reality only 57 per cent of the toilets were in use.
To address this problem, child-friendly toilet facilities were introduced with UNICEF support and, to date, 210 schools in Sonbhadra have introduced improved sanitation. Children are also learning the importance of good hygiene like washing their plates and hands with soap before their mid-day meal.
Mr. Yadav explains that the national government provided about $900 to construct latrines at the Sukrit school. Another $450 was needed to complete the project, which he provided from his local government budget. Bright, whimsical murals adorn the latrine, making it inviting for the boys and girls who use it.
UNICEF is providing technical support for the design of child-friendly toilets in schools, taking into account the different needs of boys and girls. A Hygiene Education Package, with books and activity-based learning, has also been developed for schools with UNICEF support.
“Child-friendly schools help us attract children to go and stay in schools,” said UNICEF Chief of the Uttar Pradesh Field Office Adele Khudr. “Having a healthy learning environment is just as important as what happens in the classroom. Students now know the importance of good hygiene, and they have the facilities they need to keep themselves clean and healthy.”
Making a difference
Improving safe water access, hygiene and sanitation in schools is a major component of equitably achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide by 2015.
Chandra Prabha, 11, and her friend Chanda Kumari, 10, hungrily dig into heaping plates of rice and lentils. In the lunch shed, they are safely sheltered from the hot sun as they eat with some 77 boys and 81 other girls.
The girls lean towards each other, mirror images in their blue uniforms, plaits and tiny nose studs, scooping up bites with their hands as they giggle and whisper together. Asked if they like their new lunch quarters they happily chime ‘yes’ in unison.
“We used to eat on the ground, and mud would get onto our plates,” said Chandra. “Our teacher tells us now to wash the germs off our hands before we eat so that we don’t get sick.”
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