India: girls all fired up about safe water
Lavinia Fasano, 17, is from Milan, Italy and attends TASIS school in the UK. She travelled to a slum in Delhi, India, with Save the Children to find out how their WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) programme is saving lives…
No tour guide, documentary, or guidebook can possibly prepare you for India.
I visited Delhi to see the WASH work run by Save the Children and supported by RB, a company that makes household hygiene products like Dettol and Harpic.
Our first destination was a government school. We met the principal, Mrs Archana, who told us about changes the school had adopted to improve students’ hygiene.
In the back yard, a multilevel sink had been installed. To me, a sink is unquestionably embedded in everyday routine.
However, to the girls at this school the sink was new and exciting. They exuberantly washed their hands, following all the steps – putting my own hand-washing skills to shame.
We met the WASH Club – girls aged 8 to 11 who talked about hygiene and cleanliness with the same passion girls back home speak about Justin Bieber and One Direction.
These inspiring representatives not only practised good sanitation themselves but also taught their peers and families what to do.
Then we visited our first slum, where Save the Children and RB had helped the community convert an open drain into a safe, covered drain.
Previously children had played by the waste water and been prone to illness, especially skin diseases. Sometimes they had fallen in and sustained injuries.
One room for seven people
We took off our shoes out of respect to the hostess and entered a miniature home that housed seven people. The walls were bare and the family’s rolled-up sleeping mats bordered the walls.
We talked to girls and their mothers. Some mothers had been married as young as 14 or 15.
They wanted better for their children. One mother named Ranjita was putting aside whatever money she could to send her daughter Surbhi to a private school.
Although she had been married at 14 she insisted her daughter only marry when she had completed her studies. All the mothers nodded in agreement.
The next day we visited a different slum where we spoke to around 30 women and young girls. Their toilet complex now has lockable doors which provides them with more security and privacy and makes using the facilities more appealing.
Children have internalised the concept of good hygiene – they even question where the soap is when it’s missing! The mothers have noticed a decrease in child illness – one of the many positive outcomes of good sanitation.
Then it was time to talk to the younger girls. They chatted about school, boys, friends, the classes they were taking, and how they didn’t always get on with the girls in their grade.
Young girls with big dreams
One girl, Savita, was an aspiring fashion designer. The others wanted to be nurses and tailors.
I was shocked that most of the girls weren’t opposed to the idea of arranged marriage: if they ended up with a partner they didn’t like they could always blame their parents!
Despite our differing views on marriage, I was mostly amazed by the number of things these girls and I had in common.
It’s safe to say they will remain in my heart.