In January 2021, Nepal’s schools re-opened to a new ‘normal’ of hand hygiene, masking up, and physical distancing. School re-opening was one of the many attempts by the government to restart socio-economic life in Nepal. But before some schools in Nepalgunj can open, SNV in Nepal and partners first made sure that schools were equipped to keep their students and the school administration safe from COVID-19 disease spread.
Located in the heart of Nepalgunj city, Mahendra Madhyamik Vidhyalaya is a public school established in 1960. The school offers classes from grades 1 through 10, educating close to 600 students every year.
Handwashing stations re-examined
Prior to the events of COVID-19, it was already clear to SNV and its partners that many public schools around Nepalgunj were lacking handwashing with soap facilities in schools.
SNV’s March 2021 mid-term survey in Nepalgunj found that only half of the schools have access to a handwashing station with permanent water, while 9% do not have a handwashing station at all. The number of handwashing stations ranges from 1-6 per school, with close to half only having access to one handwashing station. The same survey uncovered that the handwashing station ratio to students was 1:1,012 students.
Beyond the urgent need to increase access to accessible and sustainable handwashing stations, the events of COVID-19 added another dimension to this challenge. Not only were handwashing stations badly needed. They too had to be constructed in ways that discouraged crowding to reduce the risk of transmission.
A ‘pandemic-informed’ handwashing station
In anticipation of schools reopening, SNV in Nepal and its partners used the closure of schools as an opportunity to engage in construction works. With funding from the Government of the Netherlands and as part of the WASH SDG programme, SNV in Nepal delivered a handwashing with soap (HWWS) station to Mahendra Madhyamik Vidhyalaya. The HWWS allowed 12 students to wash their hands all at the same time, while keeping distance from each other.
‘A handwashing station of this model is really effective for the students’ health as well as teachers and staff because it is designed in such a manner that there is less chance for contamination. Many students can use it at the same time.’ – Mr Rajesh Yadav, Principal
Compared to standard handwashing stations, this innovative model can be easily maintained, and can be repaired without damaging other components of the station. Overall, the station was constructed with a total investment cost of NRS 50,000 (US$ 670). Adds Mr Yadav, ‘there is a need to implement such kind of handwashing station in other schools if possible.’
In addition to Mahendra Madhyamik Vidhyalaya, similar handwashing stations had been constructed in seven other schools in Nepalgunj throughout December 2020. Combined these new handwashing stations are making it possible for thousands of students to practise good hand hygiene. Anecdotal evidence suggests that all handwashing stations are being used effectively, and no problems have been encountered so far while using them.
Prepared by: Aastha Chhetri, MEL Advisor, SNV in Nepal
For more information, contact Aastha Chhetri by email.