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New School Sanitation Brings Positive Behaviours

© UNICEF/PAKA/2007/Pasha
Kander Kalas primary school students at the water tank

By Sandra Bisin

Bagh, Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, October 2007 – As soon as their teacher calls for a short break in the morning’s session, all students in the class rush for the brand new UNICEF-sponsored water tank at the back of the school building.

Ten-year-old Hamid makes a fast move and is one of the first to reach the water tap. Amidst splashing and giggling, the little boy is able to cast a glance at Sobia, his teacher, who closely monitors access to the tap. The mischievous boy understands he has to let others in the queue also drink and wash hands.
“Water at once came to my school, and it now feels we have always had it”, says Hamid with a radiant smile, his uniform soaked in water. “My mother is also happy to know we have water at school. So I don’t have to go fetch it and I can concentrate on my studies.”

“Water at once came to my school, and it now feels we have always had it”, says Hamid with a radiant smile, his uniform soaked in water. “My mother is also happy to know we have water at school. So I don’t have to go fetch it and I can concentrate on my studies.”

Just a year ago, Kander Kalas primary school’s students had to walk half-an-hour to reach the nearest stream and get water for the whole school. “This was a daily ritual”, Sobia remembers. “As we had no water, it was always senior students’ responsibility to bring water for their younger peers. This was a source of concern for me as it was diverting their attention from my studies.” Another source of distress for Sobia was the absence of latrines at the school, which compelled children to defecate in the fields and added to the risk of disease. In addition, the lack of water supply at the school increased the risk of abuse for girls that had to go fetch water on their own.

In Pakistan, especially in rural and mountainous areas, lack of access to basic sanitation facilities is a major cause of the high number of children and infant deaths and poor health of children and women. It is estimated that 70 per cent of people living in rural areas of the country do not have access to basic sanitation facilities.

On 8 October 2005, a powerful earthquake struck northern Pakistan, taking the lives of over 73,000 people. Kander Kalas primary school in Bagh district, in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, was one of the 8,000 schools that were destroyed by the disaster.

The catastrophe created an opportunity for UNICEF to provide improved services to communities located in these remote areas. From March 2007, UNICEF initiated the construction of transitional shelters in targeted locations to provide children with a safe learning environment. With a life span of 15 to 20 years, these transitional shelters are built in high-altitude, harsh weather locations where tents are not a long-term solution. In June 2007, Kander Kalas inaugurated its transitional shelter equipped with improved water and sanitation facilities.

© UNICEF/PAKA/2007/Pasha
Sobia, Kander Kalas primary school teacher, with Hamad and Uzma

In the past two years, UNICEF has supplied safe drinking water and latrines to nearly 303,000 students in over 3,200 schools in earthquake-affected areas. In addition, over 8,000 latrines were constructed in these schools, with UNICEF support. Nearly 4,500 primary school teachers were trained in school sanitation and hygiene education and more than 316,000 students received sanitation and hygiene education sessions.

“Hygiene education is key to the success of these new facilities at the school”, says Siyas, from Almustapha Development Network, a UNICEF partner in Bagh. “Parallel to the set up of water supply and latrines, we conducted a hygiene promotion campaign. Teachers and students had poor knowledge of good hygiene practices: most children were coming to school with dirty nails; they wouldn’t wash their hands before eating. With our sessions, we helped children and their teachers develop useful lifeskills on health and hygiene”
 
“UNICEF-supported hygiene promoters reached significant achievements at Kander Kalas school. They encouraged children to recycle five-litre oil containers into bins to be used both at school and at home, to keep the environment as well as their home clean”, says Nadia Sayeed, a UNICEF Water and Sanitation officer. “In our strategy to raise awareness on hygiene, we considered the fact that teachers can function as role models, not only for children but also within the community. School children can influence the behaviour of family members - both adults and younger siblings - and thereby positively influence the community as a whole.”

Parallel to the hygiene awareness campaign, UNICEF supported the establishment of a community-based school water management committee, which looks after the new facilities. “It is the responsibility of the water management committee to ensure that the new equipment is properly maintained”, says 16-year-old Arshad, a college student who is also a member of the committee. “We will not let anyone cause them any damage.”

All children are now back in the classroom, working on their exercise books in silence. “Kander Kalas’ students are proud of their new school”, says Sobia. “It is a new incentive for them to go to school and it is such a relief for me as I know they can now concentrate on their studies.”

 

 

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