Can students themselves fight the water crisis in rural schools?

February 1, 2016

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A few months ago, Thaingkhali High School in south-eastern Bangladesh had neither safe water supply nor adequate facilities for handwashing. Without safe water in the school premises during the dry season, students felt dehydrated, becoming sleepy and unable to concentrate during lessons.

 

Success Story of BRAC WASH Program

A few months ago, Thaingkhali High School in south-eastern Bangladesh had neither safe water supply nor adequate facilities for handwashing. Without safe water in the school premises during the dry season, students felt dehydrated, becoming sleepy and unable to concentrate during lessons.

The school (located at 21.170833333330N 92.157638888880E) is a small, bamboo-fenced compound in the village of Ukhiya, a few miles away from Cox’s Bazar town. The only tube well inside the school was built in a shallow level. During the dry season, groundwater levels dropped down to about 40 feet, creating acute scarcity of water and causing a crisis for the 363 kids who come to this school every day.

There are a few scattered deep tube wells away from the school which students would use during these times. They would carry back a bucket of water to use in the washrooms. As some of those tube wells belonged to individual homes, the owners would sometimes misbehave when students wanted to use them. The school knew about it but was unable to build a tube well as it didn’t have the funds for one.

As groundwater levels fall, even the deep tube wells may not have sufficient water to last the school and communities until the end of the dry season.

The school’s water crisis came under BRAC’s attention through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme. BRAC WASH understands that schools are an excellent platform for hygiene education, which is why much of its work is centered on promoting hygiene and sanitation in schools. Upon seeing the water crisis firsthand, WASH constructed a piped water supply with a deeper borehole in June 2015. Separate hand washing rooms with modern fittings (liquid soap dispensers, wash basins, tiles etc) were constructed for boys and girls keeping safe water supply the top priority.

A student brigade and a member of staff were trained on operations and maintenance of the new water supply system.water

The tap water was tested for five parameters, (arsenic, pH, manganese, chloride and iron) and all five have been found within permissible limits as per the Bangladesh drinking water standards. To ensure that the service sustains, BRAC came into a formal agreement with the school authority to open a bank account of minimum USD 60 to cover the operation and maintenance costs involved.

Access to water alone isn’t sufficient. Soap, something taken for granted in many schools around the world, was a rarity in this case. BRAC arranged a soap drive where all students brought bars of soap for handwashing. Students were encouraged to take ownership of their own health and hygiene, while also helping to ensure a continuing supply of soap throughout the year.

Today, access to clean water has transformed the school. The chairman of the school management committee notes, “Attendance has increased and parents feel more positive about enrolling their children to this school now. It creates better working conditions for teachers as well.”

Girls are now less likely to miss out classes during their menstruation, knowing that they will be able to deal with their needs in privacy.

This is an example of what student-led community engagement can overcome. Ensuring that students have continued access to hygiene and safe water is a crucial point that needs to be addressed when we talk about keeping children in school. With the support of charity: water, BRAC WASH has been able to do just that.

 

Ridwanul Haque is a senior sector specialist at BRAC’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme.

Comments are closed.