For the safety of its students…

Schools in Gelephu thromde step up COVID-19 prevention measures.

UNICEF Bhutan
A younng girl washes her hands
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden
04 August 2020

Gelephu, Sarpang: With water sources secured and new handwashing stations installed, all four schools of Gelephu Thromde (town) are well prepared with COVID-19 prevention measures.

Besides the construction of toilets, the four schools together built an additional 62 handwashing stations to their existing 104 after the pandemic scare hit the country in early March.

“We are more at risk given our proximity to the border and so, much more alert and prepared,” says the principal of Gelephu Higher Secondary School principal, Shambay Dawa. The school has built an additional 18 handwashing stations doubling the number of tap points and access to water for its students and staff.

Two class XI students greet visitors at the school’s entrance with a board displaying the QR code of Druk Trace App and a hand-held thermometer. No visitors are allowed to enter without a face mask nor without washing their hands with soap at the portable syntax water tank. The case is similar in all four schools. Students or school health coordinators wait at the gates. To prevent the soap from disintegrating in the rain, some schools have used pet bottles to cover the bars.

The school has 949 students. When the school reopened in July, the school resumed classes for grade X students at the nearby Gelephu Lower Secondary School while grade XII students attended classes at the high school. “We are in fact running two schools now,” says Shambay Dawa adding that the move was made to ensure physical distancing by doubling the number of classes.

For the high school, the risk of coronavirus infection is not the only threat. A part of the campus falls in the route of migrating elephants that amble through the town especially during paddy harvest season. The principal recalls elephants piercing one of the school’s biggest water tanks with their tusks. The tanks are sealed and still in use.

A teacher inspects a portable water tank
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden
A water tank
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden

But for now, the focus is on COVID-19 and in ensuring the prevention measures.

“If all students return to school, the municipal office has assured additional water supply,” says the Thromde Education Officer, Kuenzang.

With handwashing stations on every floor, water supply is a non-issue for the recently constructed Gelephu Middle Secondary School. It has 62 tap points today for the 61 grade X students who returned to school. “So, we have a 1:1 student tap ratio,” says principal Wangmo. “COVID-19 is a blessing to show the importance of WASH, a programme we have been advocating on for years.”

The school built 16 more handwashing stations after the pandemic adding to the 15 stations they already had.

Wangmo says that at the beginning of the year, all parents contribute a bar of soap and a roll of toilet paper per student, which is enough to last a year for the 578 students.

After the school noticed that students opened up more easily to non-teaching staff, the school, says Wangmo, appointed their lab assistant, Phuntsho Wangmo as the school’s health coordinator.   Phuntsho greets visitors to the school today with a handheld thermometer, a logbook and requests all to wash their hands with soap and then scan the Druk Trace app.

“As a school, our focus is in the wellbeing of our children,” says Wangmo.

A water filtration system in a school in Gelephu.
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden

Gelephu Lower Secondary School, the oldest in the border town has the highest number of handwashing stations among the thromde schools. It has 54 stations today including the eight new it installed after COVID-19.

“This is the best time to strengthen WASH services and we are aware that the thromdes could be the next epicenter should there be a community transmission,” says principal Kinzang Dorji.

None of its 1,305 students are back to school yet but the school is hosting grade X students from the neighbouring high school. “We installed four water tanks, each with four taps before the students resumed classes,” says Kinzang Dorji.

Its 73 teachers volunteered to install 10 new water taps for the students. “We also have tippy taps, both portable and fixed to use if the school reopens for grades VII and VIII,” says the principal.

A handwashing station at the entrance of a school.
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden

Besides the public schools, Gelephu’s lone private school is as prepared with WASH facilities to reopen their schools. 

Khendrup Higher Secondary School has its own borewell and 45 functioning taps, enough for all its students and teachers. It built 20 additional handwashing facilities to the existing 25. “Ten handwashing tap points were built by our teachers,” says principal Pema Gyeltshen. “The school is prepared to reopen and welcome our students.”

Chief Programme Officer of the School, Health and Nutrition Division with the Ministry of Education, Karma Wangchuk said that in terms of readiness among the four thromdes in the country, Gelephu thromde, said that it was prepared to reopen its schools.

 

Students wash their hands
UNICEF/Bhutan/2020/SPelden