“Good for everyone”
In western Nepal, improved WASH facilities at a school as part a UNICEF-Finland partnership is proving key to ensuring regular attendance among adolescent girls
Surkhet, Nepal: Just a few years ago, while making rounds of the classrooms at the Bhanu Secondary School in Simta Rural Municipality in Surkhet District in western Nepal, principal Prem Bahadur Thapa recalls finding frequent absentees among girls in the upper grades. When their classmates were asked what the reason was, often, it would be because these girls were menstruating and preferred to either leave school during their lunch break or avoid coming to school altogether.
“Of course, you couldn’t fault them,” the educator says. “The toilets in the school were in a bad condition, sanitary pads were not available, and there were no means of disposing used ones either.”
Things have improved in the last two years. Not only has the Government of Nepal started to supply schools with stocks of sanitary pads, but through a new project – initiated under a partnership between UNICEF and the Finland Government, in coordination with the municipality - the school’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities have seen a much-needed upgrade in the last year.
The project began with an initial orientation for members of the School Management Committee (SMC), teachers and child club members on the Three-Star Approach to WASH in schools. This approach is designed to ensure that healthy habits are taught, practiced and integrated into daily school routines, and helping schools ensure that there is access to improved water sources, gender-segregated toilets with menstrual hygiene management and handwashing facilities.
Under the Three Star Approach, schools are encouraged to take simple, inexpensive steps to make sure that all students wash their hands with soap and water, have access to drinking water, and are provided with clean, gender-segregated toilets, with menstrual hygiene management facilities at school every day.
Following the orientation on the approach, the SMC, teachers and child club members – based on the most pressing needs at the school – developed a WASH facility improvement plan, coordinating with local government officials and other stakeholders.
As per the plan, support was then provided to upgrade the existing water supply facilities, such as group handwashing stations and installing a tank for water storage.
The toilets too were revamped to be more child- and gender-friendly – five separate toilets each for girls and boys, and one toilet for universal access, which is also disabled-friendly. In addition, an incinerator pit was also set up for disposal of used sanitary pads.
With these improvements, the school now meets one out of the three stars in terms of WASH standards, for which it will be receiving a certificate from the local government. Further work is needed, of course, to ensure that the school attains the full three-star standard.
Child club member Niharika Sapkota, currently studying in the 10th grade, says she and her friends feel much more comfortable coming to school.
“It’s easier than before…. you don’t have to worry about what to do if you are on your period,” she says.
Principal Prem Bahadur says he has received similar positive feedback from other students, as well as the faculty. “It’s been good for everyone,” he says. “Fewer girls are absent now because of menstruation.”