Stepping into a healthier future
Fifteen-year-old Bhawana, a student of class 9 in Haryana’s Mehendipur village, remembers the time when she, like the rest of the school, had to look for hidden spots outside to relieve themselves during recess. “We had no toilets in our school back then—not even a place to wash our hands after,” she said. Things have now, however, changed. Not only does the school now have toilets—separate for girls and boys—it also has a hand washing station. What's more, the students also have a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) club, of which Bhawana is the leader.
This infrastructural transformation has had a ripple effect—on children’s health and in raising greater consciousness of practicing what they are taught in school, about the importance of hygiene. “Earlier, students would often fall ill because we did not have the awareness nor the means to practice good hygiene,” Bhawana said, “Things would be particularly difficult for girl students during their menstruation. There was no private space to change and clean themselves. No place to wash hands.”
Menstrual Health Management (MHM), of which Bhawana is now more aware, was also hardly talked about, let alone practiced, by the students. This led to higher health risks.
An intervention by WaterAid India and AB InBev however changed all that. The aim of the intervention was two-pronged—to help build infrastructure in order to ensure access to WASH facilities by the students, as well as to build awareness to use those facilities and inculcate good practices that would ensure a healthy life.
Thus, toilets—each for girls and boys—were built. A separate hand washing station where students could wash their hands after using the toilet and before and after eating food, was also built. Crucially, a WASH club was assisted in being set up for the students so they could discuss and build their own awareness on the subject. “It is important to maintain hygiene and cleanliness around so that we can live a healthy life,” Bhawana said, “By being aware of ourselves we can share our knowledge with others.”
There is also an increasing level of awareness about Menstrual Hygiene Management, Bhawana added. During their discussions in the WASH club, the students talk about good Menstrual hygiene management practices and myths that at times hinder health.
“The school now looks and feels cleaner, better,” she said, “I want to keep spreading awareness about this subject among more students, more people.”