Impacting WASH in Schools …

It is almost 2014, yet close to 50% of schools in the developing world still do not have, or have inadequate, access to WASH (WAter+Sanitation+Hygiene) facilities and education. If we are ever going to succeed in making an impact on the global crisis, where close to 1 Billion people have no clean water and 2.5 Billion are without functional toilets, we need to start by making sure that we are providing basic facilities in schools and teaching our next generation all about the life saving and disease reducing impact of WASH.

I recently attended a WASH-in-Schools (WINS) Partnership meeting in New York City, where practitioners and researchers focussed on this issue came together to discuss what is working (and what is not), plus what helps WASH to really ‘stick’ in schools. In addition to ensuring that basic WASH facilities are available and that hygiene is part of the curriculum, two star components that stood out for me were:

I. Menstrual Hygiene Management – overcoming the taboo:
While all young girls will deal with it, menstruation and its management are still some of the least discussed topics within schools and homes worldwide. Yet, this recurring issue keeps millions of girls away from school, increases risk of disease and is one of the main factors related to girls dropping out of schools.

So what will it take to add Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) to schools?
The basic requirements are as follows:

1. Clear understanding by all players (principals, contractors, teachers, students, donors) that MHM is an important component of WASH that is key to keeping girls in school.
2. Education about all aspects of menstruation to be taught via the school health clubs and as a part of the hygiene curriculum for all students
3. A segregated and private toilet for girls to use when menstruating with the ability to clean themselves as needed (i.e. some water supply)
4. A place for disposal of sanitary napkins or any other waste. Correct final disposal of that waste (i.e. this could be in the form of an incinerator as napkins often interfere with composting of pits)
5. Handwashing stations and soap that are close to the toilets.

6. An emergency supply of sanitary napkins in the school in cases of desperate poverty or sudden need.
7. Information on where students can buy low-cost napkins in the community.

8. Ensuring that all aspect of MHM in the school is being regularly monitored and evaluated. i.e. a) Input= Dollars spent; b) Output= Facilities and Supplies provided; c) Outcomes = Use of facilities and Behavior Change and where possible d) Impact= Improved Attendance and Well Being of students.

II. Ensuring Daily Group Handwashing in Schools – turning theory into practice: In order to make real change in the global WASH crisis and its toll on disease, schools cannot just rely on teaching hygiene. They need to ensure that children are actually converting this education into healthy habits through skills-based learning. Group hand washing is an effective technique to do just this.

Click on this link to a wonderful 10 minute UNICEF Video on how some schools in India are effectively encouraging group hand washing.

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Group handwashing

What daily Group Hand Washing in Schools will take is as follows:

1. Clear understanding by all players (principals, contractors, teachers, students, donors) that hand washing is an important component of WASH that is key to disease control
2. Group Handwashing in schools should be done daily at a key entry point (example, before the midday meal) and in a group setting to encourage peer learning, practicing correct technique and making it an enjoyable activity. Students will then be more likely to wash hands after the toilet, etc.

3.There are some very good low cost facilities that can be put up for more than 20-30 kids to wash hands at one time.

4. Again, ensuring that schools are managing and monitoring this activity on a daily basis is key to its success.

In my view, more than the cost factor (which is minimal) what will make these important components successful in any Schools WASH project is an understanding by all players as to their necessity and the willingness to do whatever it takes to implement them. It also takes movers and shakers from all fields to speak out about the need. For example, it was great to have Candiace Dillard (Miss United States 2013) eager to join in and do her bit to help young women impacted by this world crisis.

With Candiace Dillard, Miss United States 2013, at WASH-in-Schools Partners meeting in NYC

Lotika Shaunik Paintal with Candiace Dillard, Miss United States 2013, at WASH-in-Schools Partners meeting in NYC

Finally, WASH partners, We would love to hear your experiences related to WASH-in-Schools successes and challenges, so please do send us your ideas and experiences to share with the group and advance our collective understanding on what works or doesn’t.

Best wishes,



Lotika Shaunik Paintal


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