|Child club members of Meghraj Lower Secondary and Shukla Gandaka High School on the occasion of the National Sanitation Action Week in Nepal.|
By Robin Giri
GHACHOWK, KASKI DISTRICT, Nepal, 25 May 2007 - Around the countryside of the Kaski district in Nepal, school children led their communities in a sanitation drive as the Eighth National Sanitation Action Week got underway earlier this month.
In a country where only 45 per cent of the population has access to a toilet, the Ghachowk Village Development Committee in the Kaski district is setting an example that others in the nation will hopefully learn from and follow suit.
‘Ghachowk is a 100 per cent sanitation zone. Every home in our village has a latrine’, proclaim billboards on the path leading into the village.
Poor hygiene and lack of sanitation is responsible for about 70 per cent of childhood illnesses in Nepal. Nearly 10 million episodes of diarrhoea occur among children under five, resulting in approximately 13,000 child deaths every year.
|Members of mothers’ organisations rallying in Leknath municipality urging neighbours to build latrines.|
Children in charge
Spearheading this community drive in sanitation and hygiene is a band of school children and teachers of the Shukla Gandaki High School and Meghraj Lower Secondary School. All 549 homes in this Village Development Committee have a toilet and there is no open defecation.
“Earlier when we went to our neighbours and told them about the benefits of constructing a latrine, they would chase us out as if we said something offensive,” says eighth grader Madan Pokharel, the chairperson of the children’s club for Meghraj Lower Secondary School.
“But now, everybody takes pride in the fact that there isn’t even cow-dung or trash on the roads in our village,” says the 14-year-old, on the occasion of the National Sanitation Action Week observed across Nepal from May 7-13.
“The children were ecstatic when we told them what we were planning to do in the village,” says Tika Ram Lamsal, the headmaster of Meghraj Lower Secondary School and coordinator of the total sanitation campaign for Ghachowk village. “We did all we could but it was ultimately upon children like Madan who could better convince their parents,” he says.
|A signboard in Ghachowk village proclaims that every house in this village has a toilet and warns about the dangers of communicable diseases.|
Schools lead sanitation drive
The National Sanitation Action Week was initiated by UNICEF seven years ago and is conducted every year in partnership with the Government of Nepal and 25 key agencies, including the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE).
Activities help to ensure that students are aware they need to wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet or before meals, clip their nails, and keep their school premises clean.
In 2005, the Water Supply and Sanitation Sub Divisional Office (WSSDO), with technical and financial support from UNICEF, launched the School-Led-Total-Sanitation (SLTS) project as an innovative approach that incorporated the existing SSHE programme.
Initially, UNICEF and WSSDO trained the teachers and offered to provide a toilet pan, 10 ft of pipe, and technical support to every household to construct a latrine. But soon, community members started buying their own materials, and now most donor agencies are discouraging any direct interventions.
Working together toward a cleaner country
The SLTS programme also incorporates adult members of the community, such as members of the School Management Committee, the Parent Teacher Associations and the mothers’ clubs, who are also part of the larger Cleanliness Committee.
After the child club members and other school students received training from their teachers, they began to campaign and educate their parents and neighbours about the benefits of constructing a latrine and keeping their community clean. The joint committee of students and adult community members also share responsibilities for trash collection, sweeping roads and clearing the neighbourhood of animal waste.
The Government of Nepal has a target of reaching 100 per cent sanitation by 2017. With the enthusiasm and willingness on the part of children and adults alike, this goal is within reach.