|© UNICEF Mexico/2006/Chevigny|
|Suresh Baral and Shanta Chaudhary hold up Nepalese flag as part of Children’s World Water Forum ceremony.|
By Claire Hajaj
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 27 March 2006 – At the Children’s World Water Forum here last week, children from around the globe reported to one another on their water projects. Some of them were shy at first, but over the course of the week they became more and more outspoken. One impressive young person was Shanta Chaudhary, 14, who comes from remote Dhikpur village in the Dang District of Nepal.
Shanta, her parents and her seven brothers and sisters belong to the Tharu ethnic group, the indigenous inhabitants of the plains of Nepal. A semi-nomadic people, the Tharus are now being squeezed by the pressures of modernization. Many are working as domestic servants across the country. Their lifestyle is unique – a tapestry of mud huts, beautiful straw baskets, silver jewellery, brightly embroidered clothes and ritual dances.
“In my community, there is a lot of poverty,” says Shanta. “My people don’t even own their own land, they till the land of others. But there is a growing awareness of hygiene and health.”
Shanta, an eighth grader, is among the new generation of Tharus who are breaking the wall of illiteracy and servitude. She chairs the Sanitation Club at her school, which is benefiting from the UNICEF-supported School Sanitation and Hygiene Education Programme.
Club members have taken part in conducting a baseline survey of the school catchment area, identifying households that do not have toilets, for example, or are not sending their children to school. They followed the survey with social mapping of the area and have helped to mobilize sanitation and hygiene campaigns in the school and community.
“My water project is all about the longevity of the community, in school and the rest of society,” explains Shanta. “It used to be that only 35 per cent of homes had toilets. Now it’s 70 per cent.”
|© UNICEF Mexico/2006/Chevigny|
|Youth delegates Suresh Baral and Shanta Chaudhary listen to presentation at the Children’s Forum along with one of the adult participants.|
Among other activities, the Sanitation Club organizes demonstrations of the importance of hand-washing with soap and raises awareness, through street dramas and song competitions, to convince village elders of the need to construct toilets. Shanta and her club members use the format of the ‘dohori’ (duet) songs, popular in Dang, to spread knowledge about sanitation and hygiene to the Tharu population.
Thanks to this work, her school now has running water and child-friendly separate toilets for girls and boys. And there are plans to make Dhikpur a model village with respect to water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in the near future.
Advocate for development
The biggest obstacle Shanta faces is being taken seriously by adults. She and her team members have found it very challenging to change the behaviour of the indigenous Tharu people, most of whom have been oppressed for centuries and are still poor and illiterate.
Like most rural villages, Shanta’s home village of Dhikpur lacks adequate communication, transportation, medical services, schools or higher education facilities. Shanta looks forward to advancing her deprived Tharu community as a social worker and development advocate.
“I am the youngest child,” says Shanta. “My family has always supported me and encouraged me not only to take care of myself, but to think beyond myself, to care about the good of others. Now I can speak out like this, and I’ve changed the behaviour of my friends and others. The school is cleaner. And all of this gives me such happiness.”