Teaching can be a challenging profession at the best of times, but imagine having to go all day without being able to get a drink of water or go to the toilet.

This was what teachers and students had to cope with every day at a school in Mahoba, India. Staff and 341 children shared one filthy toilet, and there was no source of safe water.

Now H&M Foundation and WaterAid have transformed life at the school, making teaching and learning easier for everyone.

The struggle to keep staff

Before the work began, the water that was available was dirty. Teachers and students were often sick from drinking this unsafe water, by not having clean hands or through not drinking enough.

All 15 teachers were female, and some felt self-conscious sharing a toilet with the older children. Like the older girls, staff found it hard to manage their periods with no disposal facilities and many used to have to go home to use the toilet.

Staff turnover was high, with teachers finding it difficult to cope with the lack of basic facilities.

A cleaner school

H&M Foundation and WaterAid worked with a local partner, Gramonnati Sansthan, to provide safe water points at the school, and separate toilet blocks for boys and girls.

Two Indian school girls utilise new hand washing facilities
The new girls' toilet block

They have set up hygiene lessons and built an incinerator for disposing of sanitary waste. A supply of sanitary pads is now also available for girls and teachers.

The new facilities are helping the pupils to stay healthy and focused, and making it easier for the teachers to do their jobs – and stay in them.

Teaching the teachers

Headteacher Reena Chaurasia has seen many positive changes since she began leading hygiene classes every Saturday.

“Now we keep the drinking water covered all the time," says Reena. "Students have learned all the hygiene education by heart. They have been teaching it to people at home as well.”

Teacher demonstrates the use of new hand washing facilities in an Indian school
Sangeeta, a teacher, helps some of the younger children wash their hands

The hygiene education is also proving a success among teachers.

“We didn’t know that we should wash our hands. We never used to ask the students to wash their hands before having food or after going to the toilet,” says teacher Akriti Shukla. “I didn’t know the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene education beforehand and so I couldn’t teach it to the children either.”

Taking the message home

Many students and teachers are taking their new hygiene knowledge back to their communities, spreading the benefits of the project further.

“If their families are cooking food or doing anything that may lead to sickness, students are asked to encourage their parents to wash her hands too,” says Akriti.

“Now, I even explain hygiene at home to my family and the local community. Things are changing and I sense a good change in myself too."