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Babu Raj J. Covers the Well with a Net to Protect Water from Dust and Insects (WaterAid/Ashima Narain)

By WaterAid India

Gangadharan, 48, enrolled his daughter, Anvitha, 10, in private school. He did not want to send her to the same primary school that he attended as it did not have drinking water or waste disposal.

Today, Anvitha happily attends the primary school in Elappully Panchayat that her father attended four decades ago. What changed? Everything.

It all started with ‘The Sustainable Access to Safe Water Programme’ implemented by WaterAid India and supported by the PepsiCo Foundation in southern India across three locations – Nelamangala (Karnataka), Palakkad (Kerala) and Sri City (Andhra Pradesh). The project aims to ensure immediate access to safe drinking water for people in the intervention areas, strengthen services, systems, and capacity of institutions in all intervention communities, support active and accountable institutions and replicate the success at the district-wide level through advocacy. The first year of the three-year multi-location project was completed successfully in November 2018.

In Palakkad, the programme implementation started in two-gram panchayats – Elappuly and Pudussery, which fall in the rain shadow zone with a high population density. For almost half of the year, the area faces severe drinking water scarcity. The programmes were designed both at the community and the institutions (Schools, Anganwadi Centers, and Healthcare Centers) level.

With funding from the PepsiCo Foundation, WaterAid and its implementing partner, the People’s Service Society Palakkad, began restoring the well in Anvitha’s school in April 2018. WaterAid also conducted a needs assessment to estimate how much rainwater was being wasted annually.

First, WaterAid and the People’s Service Society Palakkad held a meeting in the school for the Parent Teacher Association, local community leaders, social workers, former students, and residents. The issue around access to water was one of the most heated topics at the meeting.

The Newly Installed Piped System (WaterAid/Ashima Narain)

Even though there was a well at the school, it only had enough water to last less than six months, says Babu Raj, a teacher for 17 years and the school’s acting Headmaster. “The rest of the year, it was empty and dried out.”

For the past three years, the school relied on mobile water tankers, especially during the summer. “Even the floods in 2018 didn’t help, and the large quantity of water we had, went straight down the drain because we didn’t have a rainwater harvesting system in place,” Babu says.

The school had to pay for water using funds from the PTA (INR 100 is collected from each student at the time of the admission and when they leave the school, under the head of the development fund) or from the Teachers Welfare Fund (every month, teachers pay INR 200 from their salary towards the fund). Because of the expense, they had to ration water for daily activities like handwashing.

Built on 1.5 acres of land, the school has 24 classrooms and a 1,000-seat auditorium and two halls that can accommodate six classrooms each.

WaterAid constructed a 10,000-liter rainwater harvesting tank in the hall with a filtration unit that leads to a restored, 109,500-liter well.

“The well was filled in just two rainfalls in one monsoon season, though it had been empty for over five years,” says Babu. There is no more water shortage.

Students Washing Hands at their New Handwashing Station (WaterAid/Ashima Narain)

“The school was completely transformed,” says Gangadharan, who was able to move his daughter from the private school.” Now, it is like heaven. Studying here is fun and comfortable. This is why I decided to enroll Anvitha, and I see that she is happier here.”

The school already had a handwashing station with six taps, but it was not sufficient for 770 students. WaterAid constructed 12 taps and connected the wastewater to a filter to be reused for watering the eco garden.

Students can now use toilets and teachers no longer have to visit nearby homes to relieve themselves, says Hasina Latif, 47, who is the Hindi language teacher. “When there was no water available, facilities would smell and we had to meet outside the classroom in the open,” she says.

The new filtered water dispensers mean that students no longer have to bring bottles of boiled water from home.

To ensure the sustainability of the new infrastructure, WaterAid built the capacity of the school’s Eco Club, which has about 70 members.

Athulya, a seventh-grade student and an executive member of the Eco Club, is committed to keeping the system running smoothly.

Children Playing on School Premises During Their Break (WaterAid/Ashima Narain)

“We just gained access after many years of the water crisis. It is our responsibility to make sure that students are not wasting water.”

In the future, the school plans to package the compost from the kitchen along with other food waste and sell it in the market to supplement the school’s income.

The programme interventions have paved a way for addressing the water crisis in the region. The integrated approach of creating water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure both at the community and at institutional levels is enabling to recharge water at a scale in this dry area.

The saying, “Children are change agents,” has proved to be true through various interventions taken up in schools. The children are carrying the messages around water security and conservation to the larger group at home and in their communities. There has been a visible change in hygiene behavior post the provision of handwashing stations in the schools. During the second and third year, the programme will be more intensive in terms of addressing the water crisis and creating water conservation infrastructure at scale in the operational areas. Through various community mobilization and sensitization activities, the community and child cabinet (schools) will take ownership of the infrastructure created under the project, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the structures.

Addressing the integrated water, sanitation and hygiene issues in schools has been one of the key focus of the intervention programme. Today, the school that Anvitha studies in has water filters/dispensers ensuring safe water for children. Promoting water conservation through recharging dug wells and construction of rainwater harvesting structures has proved to be a boon for this region that faces a severe water crisis. The composting of wet waste promoted in schools is a step forward towards sustainable and environment-friendly waste management methods. Though a holistic approach, today Anvitha’s has those facilities at school which her father never had. Clearly, water does transform lives.

About the Contributor
WaterAid is an international not-for-profit, determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. Working in India since 1986, WaterAid has successfully implemented water, sanitation, and hygiene projects, extending benefits to some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities across 13 of India’s 29 States.

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