A School Without Toilets

Khusbu Bora Pinglo, Garur | Bageshwar, Uttarakhand | Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) play an important role in girls’ education. Lack of water and sanitation facilities often prevents girls from attending schools, leading to an uncertain future. The Maigri Estate Inter College in Garur block in Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand is a well-built government institution with good classroom infrastructure and a sports ground. Yet, it lacks the most basic structure-toilets. About 21 kms away from Bageshwar, this inter-college offers education from class VI to XII and has a student population of around 400, half of which comprises girls.

Babita, a student of 11th standard, wants to attend school every day, but the biggest hurdle to achieving that is the lack of toilet facilities. “Coming to school during menstruation or before that is not even an option. Where do we change our pads?” expressed Babita. Lack of clean drinking water is another issue that often determines the attendance of students. Tanjua, another student in 10th standard, said, “There is no facility for clean drinking water, which results in various sicknesses and our education gets hampered. Due to the lack of such facilities, many parents enrol their boys in schools situated in cities. On the other hand, girls are far from availing these options as most parents do not allow girls to stay away from their villages. We are bound to complete our education amid these shortcomings.”

A UNICEF report also underlines how essential safe, single sex and hygiene facilities are for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) without which girls can struggle to attend and stay in school. However, most government schools do not have this basic necessity, affecting the education of the students, mostly girls. Recently, a report, while quoting official data, says more than 1000 schools in Uttarakhand don’t possess functional toilets on their premises.

Puneet Joshi, a teacher from the school, understands the need for these basic requirements and advocates for better facilities for the students. “Girls from rural areas are equally talented as their urban counterparts. Compared to boys, many girls have brought laurels to their areas by topping classes 10th and 12th, while some girls have made the school proud by participating in various activities. But due to the shortcomings in these few basic facilities, many don’t get the space to continue their interests,” Puneet explained.

Further, he adds, “Teachers make every effort to provide quality education to the students, which shows in their results. But when girls quit school because of a lack of basic facilities, it is a waste of our hard work.”

While admitting the lack of clean drinking water and toilets, Kuldeep Koranga, the principal of the school, said, “It is possible to solve this problem with the help of villagers and panchayat for which efforts are being made.” On the other hand, Usha Devi, the sarpanch of Maigri Estate, also considers it important to take notice of the lack of the principle facilities in the school. “Efforts would be made to resolve this problem at the panchayat level as soon as possible so that the education of these children is not hampered,” said Usha.

Many girls belonging to remote villages are enrolled in this school, such as Loha Gari, which is about 26 km from Maigri Estate. They walk nearly an hour to reach school and then another hour back to their villages. Walking such distances and staying in a place without proper toilets and clean water for extended periods of time can be hazardous to their health. Certainly, they would prefer to skip their classes during menstruation to avoid such major challenges, given that there is no possible solution yet.

Undoubtedly, the school authorities and the villagers are taking all possible steps to make these facilities available to the students. However, effective steps need to be taken at the earliest in order to provide the girls a safe space to prosper and grow without having them worry about proper sanitation facilities. Inclusion of such facilities will not only empower the girls but also keep them away from gendered violence.

The article was first published in Grassroots.

The writer is a student of 11th standard from Maigri Estate Inter College, Garur, Bageshwar. Share your feedback on features@charkha.org

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