Sanjana Shastri is a student at MCOPS and a writer for MTTN. She conducted a crowdfunding campaign to help build toilets for a school in rural Maharashtra. Here’s the story of her experience, in her own words:
I have a family home in the area of Vikramgadh, which is 2.5 hours away from Mumbai, on the way to Gujarat. A few years ago, while my father and I were sitting at home, we decided to visit the local Zilaparishad school and meet the kids there.
The school is co-ed and teaches students from the 1st to 7th standard. While the classrooms were decorated and painted by the students, the toilets were abysmal and that fact weighed heavily on my mind.
In 2017, I decided to get the school fans and lights with the money I’d received for Diwali and for my birthday. But, the miserable state of the girls’ toilets and the general state of hygiene still deeply affected me.
I spoke to the school staff and found out that many students missed days at school in the I monsoon for reasons of basic hygiene. They also told me that the students had to get water to drink and wash and use in the bathroom from village wells that were quite far away. So while I wanted to rebuild the toilets for the girls, it would be of no use till we had a water supply to the school. Hence the first step was to get access to a village well.
Since I study here in Manipal, my parents have helped me through the entire process. My mother, along with some of the teachers, met the village panchayat and got permission to use the water. Obtaining permission to use the village well took around 5 months of convincing the panchayat and locals.
Then we set up a solar pump and a pipeline. The schoolkids’ parents worked as labourers to dig the pipe and my parents helped with the funding for the pipeline. With this setup, the children could wash their hands in running water and didn’t need to carry water from the well any longer.
Now that the water problem was fixed, it was important to rebuild the whole block. The plan included building six latrines for the girls and three WC toilets, two indian style and one western style, and one handwash sink in the bathroom. The roofing was remade with a new plastic, which allows light to pass through, providing natural lighting for the bathroom.
I thought about asking my parents for their help to fund the toilet block, but after I saw the overwhelming support from my friends and extended family after they saw the pipeline and the fans being installed, I decided it was best to start a crowdfunding campaign. This would enable a larger number of people to make a difference to these young girls. My goal was to raise three lakhs in a span of 45 days and we completed the goal in 33 days!
The school sent us the quotations and the building plan. The tank had to be raised and there was a new septic tank to be built.
Now, there is a new handwash station for all the students to use near the classrooms which have been re-tiled. The entrance had to be changed too as one classroom looked directly into the toilet.
With the help of the school principal, faculty and the local contractor, the work was completed on 29th June of this year, and my family was honoured to attend its inauguration. The students are now responsible for the cleanliness of the toilets.
When I visit the school the next time, I plan on giving a talk on the basics of hygiene, like the correct way to wash hands, and use the bathroom. I also plan to talk to the girls who are from classes 5th to 7th standard about menstrual health and hygiene.
I’m optimistic that these students will take these lessons home and teach their parents and community members the basic elements of hygiene and its importance.
When I spoke to the teachers, I realised that most of the students come to school because they are provided midday meals. I hope that now with the new toilets, they actually look forward to going to school and can focus better on learning. They had also told me that students miss around 40 days of school due to health reasons. The students, hopefully, will not miss school due to health issues which were due to the unsanitary state of the toilets from now on.
When I visited it on the 29th, the school had a completely new look! The walls were painted bright colours with educational messages for the students, showing them numerical tables, different fruits, vegetables, shapes and basic sentence formation. Since the school was painted, it was used as a voting centre for the first time this general election.
After I complete my graduation, and get my degree, I want to build the toilets in the senior school for the girls, and continue educating them about sanitation and hygiene.