ArchivesJuly 2010School sanitation sparks ‘Bayanihan’ spirit

School sanitation sparks ‘Bayanihan’ spirit


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Elementary school teacher Sheila Estonilo picks up a piece of chalk and prepares to write on the blackboard in her classroom when a gangly hand goes up near the back of the room. “Ma’am, may I go out, Ma’am?” a small voice belonging to a skinny boy pipes up. Sheila turns around and nods her head. As the boy rushes out of the classroom, Sheila sighs, knowing that it will take some time before the boy comes back to class, as has always been the case when her students ask to be excused to go out of the room to answer the call of nature.{{more}}

Salag Elementary School, which stands along the highway of the sprawling Siaton town in Negros Oriental, a province in the Central Visayas islands of the Philippines, has long had a problem with a lack of adequate toilets. The school only had two comfort rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, which are not enough to accommodate a student population of more than 100.

As the waiting lines outside the comfort rooms grow, most (those who could not hold it anymore) run to nature – the nearest bushes – to literally, answer the call of nature.

Teacher Sheila says this is why students take a long time to get back to class. Once they step outside the classroom to do their business, the students tend to loiter and dilly-dally long after they’re done doing their business. “We have no control of where they will go after they ask to leave the classroom. The students often take their time before coming back to the classroom, missing out on a lot of the day’s lesson,” she said.

But things changed when Unicef stepped in to address the school’s problem. Teacher Sheila still remembers the day when officials from Unicef came to their school to deliver free goods as well as the good news. “They gave us books and notepads for the students and told us that they will give us comfort rooms. We were so happy when we heard that,” she recalled.

After the dust settled from months of construction work, year 2009 saw all seven classrooms in Salag Elementary School each outfitted with brand new and sparkling white toilets. Because of this, Salag’s students not only learned proper sanitation and hygiene, but also improved their participation in their classes.

“Now the students don’t need to step out of their classrooms when they have to go to the toilet. Loitering students during class hours is no longer a problem,” Principal Millard Merced happily said, as he pointed out how helpful the toilets have been to their school.

The provision of toilets is one of the many projects carried out by Unicef in elementary schools belonging to disparity villages in the province to promote school sanitation and hygiene. One of the requirements cited in Unicef’s Child-Friendly School System is for the school to be “healthy” with adequate sanitation and toilet facilities. To date, six elementary schools in disparity villages across the province are now enjoying the sanitation, and privacy, provided by clean comfort rooms, courtesy of Unicef which supplied the toilet facilities. The local government units, in return, shouldered the cost of construction.

But it was not a happy ending yet at this point for Salag Elementary School. After the toilets were completed, the school faced another problem: water has long been and continues to be a dilemma for the school and the entire village. “Now that we have the toilets from Unicef, we have to deal with the problem of lack of water. We don’t have a water supply coming in from the main line,” lamented Principal Millard.

Although the village has a water source, the supply is not sufficient to address the water needs of the village residents. But this did not stop Principal Millard who was determined not to let the toilets go to waste. So he called for a meeting with the teachers and together they came up with an idea to solve the lack of water in the toilets. However, the solution they thought of can only be done with the support from the parents of the students.

So in the next Parent-Teacher Homeroom meeting, Principal Millard presented the solution before the parents: for each parent to contribute money for the purchase of containers of water in each toilet every school day. The principal was not sure if he could convince the parents. With Salag tagged as a disparity area, life in the village is hard and water is scarce and expensive.

But to the principal’s surprise, the parents readily said yes. Now, with the parents chipping in the funds, each classroom’s toilet has up to five gallons of water, enough to address the sanitation needs of around 60 students in each class. All this made possible by the bayanihan spirit among the Salag villagers. Bayanihan is a Filipino term referring to a spirit of communal unity or effort to attain a particular objective. In this case, the objective was to make sure that Unicef’s efforts are not wasted and the students in Salag get to use the sanitation facilities provided for them to the fullest.

Principal Millard is glad to see how the community has gotten involved in addressing the water problem in the school. “This would not have been possible had Unicef not provided the toilets. I don’t think the parents would have agreed to shelling out the money that quickly. They were inspired by what Unicef has done for the school,” he said with a smile on his face. (Rachelle M. Nessia)

“…they were inspired by what Unicef has done for the school,” said Principal Millard Merced, referring to how the parents worked together to provide gallons of water in the school.(PHOTO by Rachelle Nessia)

Teacher Sheila Estonilo who was one of the four Outstanding Primary School Teachers in CPC-6 Disparity Barangays in Negros Oriental. (PHOTO by Rachelle Nessia)

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