This week, I have been working with a local NGO, Sabuj Sangha, one their school WASH intervention. The area that Sabuj Sangha serves are remote village in thee South 24 Parganas District of West Bengal. South 24 Parganas is the largest district of West Bengal and second largest by population. It is also the sixth most populous district in India. The area is rural and the main source of income is agriculture.
We visited two government schools that are in dire need of proper water, station and hygiene (WASH) facilities and education. Over ten years ago, the government helped build the minimal infrastructure of the school pit latrines but not with the maintenance of the sanitation facilities. Due to lack of money, proper management and maintenance system, the condition of the facilities gradually deteriorated. The students and the teachers use the same facilities and have been suffering due to lack of adequate and proper facilities. The schools don’t have any running water to supply the pit latrine. The schools ground water pumps are broken. Students and teachers use the pond water (inside the school area) for the use of toilets, cleaning, and bathing. Sometimes the boys defecate and urinate in the pond. The school also does not have hand washing station. This is a huge problem during lunch time because students either do not wash their hands or use pond water to wash their hands before and after eating. Water from the pond is unsafe and breeding ground for waterborne parasites and diseases.
Children reading in schools don’t have adequate sanitation and hand washing facilities, hygiene education and suffer from waterborne diseases. Female students face greater problems for lack of proper water supply facility. Girls miss about a week of school during their monthly menstrual cycle. The school doesn’t have money to purchase menstrual pads.
The schools will be working with Sabuj Sangha on five areas of the WASH program: (1) development of infrastructure, (2) management and maintenance system, (3) school WASH committee to monitor the progress of the WASH intervention, (4) hygiene education and (5) financial sustainability though small tariff fees for students and teachers. The needs of female students will be meet through the construction of changing rooms, disposal tools, and supplies of sanitary napkins.
I have been collecting field data to create marketing, fundraising materials and grant writing support to help Sabuj Sangha, school committee and their local partners raise money to build the necessary toilets and handwashing facilities. We collected baseline data on the school’s conditions and will train school officials on how to collect data pre- and post-intervention. A key part of the intervention is the introduction of financial sustainability. After completion of construction the process of tariff collection from the students and teachers will be introduced to generate maintenance fund, which will be used for repair and maintenance in future. In addition, youths from the community will be trained by Sabuj Sangha on repair and maintenance of WASH facilities. They will be paid laborers. Community ownership is encouraged through formation of school WASH Committees with multi-stakeholder representatives to monitor and manage the repair and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities using funds generated by the students, teachers and administrators.