In 2014, through an initiative called ‘My School, My Voice-Open Parliament For Children,’ over 100 students from 35 schools in India got a chance to talk about the key problems they faced in school which lead to high drop-out rates. The event included participation form key stakeholders involved in the ecosystem, including academicians, administrators, officials from the Directorate of Education (DOE) and Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) and other veterans in the domain. The most cited reason for incremental drop-out rates was the lack of proper sanitation conditions, such as a severe lack of basic toilet facilities.

It has been estimated that over 17 million urban households in India lack proper sanitation facilities and of these 14 million lack toilets. While Prime Minister Modi had promised that every school in India would have toilets by 15th August, 2015, and much progress has been made as part of the ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission, there is still a lot of work to be done. Active involvement is required by the foreign and domestic players, including the government, corporate sector and civil society, and an example of such collaboration was the initiative launched by Plan India, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Coca-Cola India Pvt. Ltd. The initiative, called “Urban WASH – ”Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya” is a project that covers 60 schools in Visakhapatnam, Pune and Dehradun, impacting the lives of over 12,000 children by enabling access to potable water and sanitary conditions, and promoting good sanitation practices, along with effective use and ownership of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructure.

Under the three-year project, Coca-Cola India will provide sanitation facilities such as toilets, sinks, urinals and other physical structures necessary for creating sanitary conditions. USAID and Plan India will support the project through behavioural change communications aimed at educating youth about the benefits of sanitation. By spreading this message, the students will serve as ‘change agents’ within their communities and around their schools. The project will work closely with the school education departments, municipal corporations and district administrations at all stages.

As part of the initiative, schools and their students will be able to ensure that adequate WASH practices are being implemented. The active involvement of girls will be key to the success of the initiative, and will help address various issues, such a menstrual hygiene and advocacy for enhancement of sanitary infrastructure.

A greater involvement of local bodies, corporates and the community at large is primary for the proliferation of such initiatives. Children are our future, and education in turn their future. If we cannot provide them a healthy and safe environment in which they can grow and develop emotionally as well as physically, we will be leaving behind a poor legacy.