Friday, July 20, 2012

Tanahu celebrates being free of open defecation

19 July 2012: It was a celebration of a different sort in Damauli yesterday.  The headquarters of Tanahun district saw over 40,000 people decked in their festive finery.  A show of the rich cultural heritage of the district. School children waving placards and festoons.  Dignitaries of high order. Song and dance.. and a lot of handwashing!  Even the heavens seem to understand the import of the moment and held at bay the monsoon showers.  It was a special moment.  Special because the district was declared open defecation free (ODF)! 

Tanahun was also the first district to initiate a "District Sanitation Basket Fund" a pool of Budgets and Programmes, including contributions from VDCs, DDCs, donors and programmes from district line agencies. UNICEF is also providing funds in the same basket fund.  Tanahun is also a pioneer in building Eco-San toilets in schools, especially in those areas with water shortage, as well as in targeting toilets for the poor families.
Tanahun’s success with the sanitation movement is said to lie in the high level of political commitment.  This was evident also in the presence of many political leaders past and present in the ODF celebrations. Another reason it was able to achieve total sanitation is also credited with its partnership with the media in the entire campaign.
Before the arrival of the chief guests the venue started to be filled by a procession of groups representing various groups and organisations.  The school children who had come in early carrying placards with various sanitation-related messages...
 .. they were seated beneath colourful canopies already
There were many many groups represented at the venue

... who took their turn to file past playing music, dancing along the way...
The celebrations were graced soon by the Hon. Vice President Mr. Paramananda Jha as Chief Guest. Here he is entering the venue for the celebrations welcomed by the Local Development Officer of Tanahun, Mr. Chhabi Lal Rijal

The Vice President takes his seat in the pavilion
UNICEF Nepal Representative Ms. Hanaa Singer was also among the special invitees to the ODF celebrations. Here she is along with Mr. Purushottam Acharya, Chief, UNICEF Nepal, Central and Western Zone Office
Other invitees included former Ministers and Constituent Assembly members, high ranking government officials, and other regional and district level officials, donors, political party representatives, former DDC officials and representatives from NGOs, community based organisations, child club networks, media, unions, private sector, schools, colleges and other vocational institutions, Female Community Health Volunteers, youth clubs, Scouts, Red Cross Volunteers, sportsmen/women as well as various ethnic and cultural organisations.   And of course the local people, who converged in the open space in Damauli in droves dressed in their best. 
The invitees were all seated under canopies that were as colourful as the celebration itself!
Below Ms. Singer is introduced to former ministers  and lawmakers Mr. Bhim Prasad Gautam (in cap) and Mr. Suresh Ale Magar
The guests are all welcomed with marigold garlands. Seated l to r is MoFALD Secretary Mr. Sital babu Regmi, former Minister Mr. Bhim Prasad Gautam, and Ms. Hanaa Singer 

Other guests of honour included (from l to r) Mr. Kari Leppanen, Development Counsellor , Embassy of Finland,  former minister Mr. Thakur Sharma, and Regional Administrator Mr. Damodar Regmi.
The ODF declaration started with the Chief Guest, the Hon Vice President unveiling a ceremonial plaque.
 Next was the signing of the flex that congratulated the people of Tanahun on their great achievement of making their district free of open defecation.  The Chief Guest was the first to put his signature.
Other guests followed, including Ms. Singer
Former Minister Mr. Gautam puts his signature on a Commitment Banner where signatories pledged to keep on working for ODF and post ODF follow-up.  A total of 15,109 signatures were added to the banner that day!
The official plaque of ODF certification from the National Sanitation & Hygiene Coordination  Committee was also jointly handed over by the Vice President and other guests to the District WASH Coordination Committee.

Tanahun DWASHCC Secretary and the Chariperson (the LDOdisplay Tanahun's trophy!
The Chief Guest also handed over a cheque of Rupees 3000000 to District Development Committee of Tanahun on behalf of the Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Project-Western Nepal (RWSSP-WN) for their special role in the ODF campaign.
Then followed unveiling of the commemorative information booklet on the ODF Celebrations by the Chief Guest

The booklet contains many details about Tanahun's total sanitation drive. For example, it has all the data and statistics:  Half of the toilets in nearly 70,000 households in the district were built following the launch of the campaign in autumn 2009. This averaged to 26 new toilets being built each day in the district!  The campaign was worth $600,000 with contributions from local bodies, line agencies, government agencies donors, NGOs, community forest users groups, media, individuals and last but not the least, the community, who contribution in kind and in labour amounted to 80% of the total budget.

679 of the 681 schools in the district have toilets and 613 of them have water supply facilities too. The two schools that have yet to have toilets are the newly affiliated schools, and budget has already been allocated for construction of toilets in the very near future for these too. Public toilets have been constructed in nearly half a dozen places in the district, including along the main highway.
Candles were lit to commemorate the positivity that prevailed in Tanahun that afternoon.
There were more than a dozen felicitatory speeches from various guests and officials, including from Ms. Singer who congratulated the people of Tanahun for doing Poet Bhanubhakta proud by making sure they left a legacy behind, and not to repent like the poet did as he penned "धिक्कार हो मकन बस्नु नराखी कीर्ति !"  in his Ghaansi poem.
The speeches were interspersed with songs and dances.. representing the multi-ethnic makeup of the district.. like this kauda dance of the Gurungs
the lakhey dance of the Newars
The local 9-member musical ensemble.. the naumati baja.. were part of the gala event 
Children from the local martial art club in their uniforms...
... some who displayed their art to the visitors and guests
Displaying the cultural heritage of Tanahun.. these women dressed in their best finery.. jantar, naugedi and all

Tamu group lead the procession of school children
During one of the speech breaks,  Rupa Sunar, a 10th  grader from  Shree Pharakchour Higher Secondary School, in Vyas Municipality sang a "Sanitation Song" reflecting the pride and joy the district people felt on the occasion. "No defecation allowed inside Tanahun,  Welcome to all of you to an open defecation free zone!" she crooned.
Next the Chief Guest handed over Certificates and Letters of Appreciation to various personalities and institutions who made significant contribution to make Tanahun ODF.

Chairperson of Chandika Primary School was felicitated for being the first school in Tanahun to declare its catchment area free of open defecation in 2006.
Headmaster of Shanti Lower Secondary School, was awarded for building the first Eco-Sanitation Toilet in Nepal
Similarly Bandipur VDC was felicitated for organising the first Sanitation Festival in Nepal in 2008
Speaking to the public following the felicitation ceremony, the Chief Guest Hon. Paramananda Jha congratulated the coordinated and concerted effort and dedication of all the people, including children, of Tanahun.
After that it was time for distribution of "Tokens of Love" and various other forms of appreciation.  Rows of Buddha statuettes waiting to be handed over to individuals for their special contribution in the ODF campaign
 Ms. Hanaa Singer receiving the Token of Love on behalf of UNICEF from LDO Mr. Rijal the District WASH Committee.
Many individuals present on the occasion were honoured for their contribution too. Honours being done by MoFALD Secretary Mr. Sital Babu Regmi
Partners in progress standing together during ODF celebrations . (from l to r) Mr. Namaste Lal Shrestha, UNICEF WASH Specialist, Ms. Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Nepal Representative, Mr. Bhupendra Bahadur Basnet, Director General, DOLIDAR, and Mr. Suman Prasad Sharma, Director General, DWSS.

Even though the official programme concluded following that, people lingered longer in the celebration venue, as there was lots to do, and see.  These included dances, songs and cultural programme from different cultural groups representing different VDCs and also from neighboring Chitwan district. 

There was also a photo exhibition with pictures showing the progress of the ODF campaign in the past three years.
There were many stalls with various sanitation-related items for display and distribution...

And then of course there were the handwashing stations. What is total sanitation with handwashing, the cheapest vaccine of all. A total of 10,551 people washed their hands with soap and water during the ODF celebrations!
Tips on the 6 steps of handwashing were demonstrated to the old...
... and young alike... "Between the fingers too!!!"
What made the ODF ceremony even more unique in Tanahun was the construction of temporary Eco-San urinals.  Urine from all those visitors and guests who used the facility was collected and taken to Chitwan by the NGO Sewa Nepal that is promoting  Eco-San toilets in Chitwan and other districts.
And to end.. snippets of the speech delivered by Ms. Hanaa Singer

"...I strongly believe that these kinds of novel initiatives will become great milestones in meeting the national goal of hundred per cent toilet coverage throughout the country by 2017...
...The campaign  that you have started with ODF is actually a huge social movement that will  improve the health, nutrition, education, tourism, social and environmental development of this district.  It will turn out to be a ground-breaking achievement for the long term sustainable development of Tanahun and Nepal..."  

Text by Rupa Joshi. Photos by Purushottam Acharya, and UNICEF Nepal

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Talking about Girls' Education

29 June 2012, Kathmandu: When the country was celebrating ‘Asar 15’ -- the day for rice transplantation, a meeting of the Girls’ Education and Gender Development Network was organised by the Gender Equity Development Section (GEDS) of the Department of Education,  Ministry of Education.  It was attended by  47 members from  12 organisations and agencies.  

Journalist from Educational Pages,  Sumon Tuladhar of UNICEF and Geeta  Ghimire of GEDS/DOE discussing details about the meeting
Geeta Ghimire initiates the meeting

Members deliberate on the logo of the Network proposed by an artist.

 Since there were many comments on the proposed logo, it was decided  that suggestions would to be sought from a couple of artists who would be  provided with criteria of agreed-on elements that the logo should incorporate.

Director General of the Department of Education, Mr. Mahashram Sharma arrives at the meeting.

Addressing the gathering Mr. Sharma stressed on the importance of coordinated efforts to further the cause of girls’ education. “While such efforts to promote girls’ education,  including the mobilisation of former CA members, have been happening at the central level, we need the Network members to work in a concerted and coordinated manner at the local level as well,”  he said.
He also advised the members to think of innovative ways on how to bring in those 5 percent children who are still out of school, as well as ways to address the high dropout rates of girls.

Reflecting on the overly negative coverage of education issues in the national media, Mr. Sharma urged the media representatives not to just focus on what is not happening.  “Please be sure to also talk about the positive things, the progress that have been made  in the education sector in the country.”
 Next Dr. Ganapati Ojha  shared the highlights of the Final Report of the “Formative Evaluation of UNGEI” undertaken in 2010 in Bara & Rautahat districts of Nepal to analyse  the relevance, effectiveness, efficacy and contributions of UNGEI.

 Summing up the impact that UNGEI has had, Dr. Ojha said that unlike in other countries, where UNGEI was looked upon as a project, in Nepal UNGEI had become the government’s agenda, and part and parcel of its promotion of EFA.
While UNGEI had a modest and indirect contribution in mainstreaming girls’ education and equity issues in the National Education Plan, its contribution in the institutionalisation of best practices was notable.  These best practices included the piloting of Young Champions, Welcome to School, the  involvement of Constituent Assembly members in promoting girls’ education, as well as the joint programming  in five districts between UNICEF and WFP.

Dr. Ojha said that since database management was not properly done, it had hampered UNGEI’s institutional memory.  He also said that coordination amongst various partners engaged in girls’ education did not meet expectations due to lack of clarity on priorities, as well as the lack of resources.

He noted that UNGEI’s contribution in building the capacity of gender focal points in the government machinery to bring in more girls to schools was notable, although more needs to be done to reach the yet unreached, to retain girls in school, to make an even more engendered curricula, and to take action against sexual harassment in schools.

 He also suggested improving database management for UNGEI, to make the plan of action smarter, and to include more global UNGEI partners in the country chapter as well.

Speaking next, Raka Rashid, Education Advisor of UNICEF ROSA explained the global process f UNGEI evaluation.  She said that of the countries that underwent the evaluation to analyse the TOR, the joint workplan and budget allocation, only Uganda was seen to have met all three criteria in a satisfactory manner.  Nepal, she said fared better than many countries, but had room for improvement. “We need more players, and need to review the context,” she said.

Dr. Pashupati Mahat from the Centre for Mental Health Counselling next gave a presentation on Psychogenic Faint, commonly referred to as ‘mass hysteria’ in the schools of Nepal.  He said that lack of understanding of the causes and nature of the condition is what led to fainting spells in girls that has hampered education in many schools.

The audience was intrigued to learn that this phenomenon that largely affected adolescent girls arose from them not being able to cope with stress—either in the family or in the school.  It was often triggered by an ‘index case’ a susceptible girl who faints and triggers sensitive peers around her to faint too.  “If a girl only faints during the presence of others, and never alone,  it is a case of Psychogenic Faint,” said Dr. Mahat.  “This condition is like a cry of help, and a way of calling attention upon themselves, and their fears”  He added that such fainting spells  normally occur due to the girls’ fear of exams, homework, sexual harassment or threats, parental discord or lack of family support as well as interpersonal relationships.

He said that while such ‘index’ cases could need counselling, separating them from their peers when the symptoms start is the best way of preventing others from being affected in the same way too.  Dr. Mahat said that schools staff could help by reducing attention to the index cases during manifestation of symptoms and  keeping them away from the group until they return to normal.  They also need to explore the underlying causes of stress of the girls, practice fearless teaching methodologies and also provide counselling services in schools.
Participants of the meeting found the presentation very useful and said that it was important to seek ways to provide orientation to all teachers and school management  on this important issue.

Dibya Dawadi, Chief of GEDS/DOE from the Department of Education then led the group through the suggested resource materials for inclusion in the toolkits for gender focal points

The meeting concluded with Dr. Sumon Tuladhar of UNICEF urging all members not to let their guards down because of the good indicators for gender parity. “Gender parity should not be limited to reflection in numbers.  We have to explore issues of equality and equity and gauge the impact we have made in empowering girls. That is why knowledge sharing is important.”

Report and pictures by Rupa Joshi