Prime minister Nitesh Kumar takes his responsibilities very seriously. Every morning he has a word with his two health ministers to enquire of any requirement for soap or disinfectant for the toilets. Sanitation, after all, is an important part of his agenda, and so, the right usage of the hygiene fund (SwachhtaKosh) is high up on his priority list.
If you are wondering which country’s prime minister goes by the name mentioned above, do not fret. Nitesh is the prime minister of the BalSansad, or child cabinet, of his school in the Chandi block of the Vaishali district of Bihar.
“We have 12 students in the child cabinet, each one with different responsibilities. There are health, education, environment and sports ministers, among others. The health minister, for example, ensures cleanliness in the school premises. I oversee all of them,” Nitesh, a student of class 5 says. The hygiene fund, he adds, helps him and his team in maintaining cleanliness in the school.
“The money collected in the SwachhtaKosh is used every month to buy soap, disinfectant for toilets and classrooms, brooms, etc. We maintain a register of the money collected and spent every month and buy the things ourselves,” he explains.
The hygiene fund is voluntary in nature. Anyone, be it teachers, students, community members or visitors, can contribute to it. In the month of May, Nitesh’s school collected Rs.84 in the hygiene fund—seemingly a small amount, but enough to buy the necessary supplies.
“My duty is to assign students the cleaning responsibility. I get students to clean the campus, the classrooms and the bathrooms. I also take part in the cleaning process,” states Anjali Kumari, health minister and student of class 4, while adding that the hygiene fund they are managing is contributing to keep the school clean.
According to the District Project Officer of the Vaishali district, Prem Chand, the idea for such a voluntary fund was born out of the need to maintain cleanliness in schools. “We felt the need of having such a fund when we saw that maintaining cleanliness was becoming an issue. To encourage community participation, we proposed the idea to the head of the village Panchayat, and everyone agreed and promptly donated money, voluntarily, for the creation of such a fund. We managed to get it started in October last year (2012), an ever since then sanitation in schools and school toilets has become better,” Chand says.
The response of the community and parents of the school children to the initiative, which has the support of UNICEF, has been good, Chand states.
According to NandLalPandey, headmaster of the VishnupurRajkhand School in the Vaishali district, the hygiene fund, apart from helping in maintenance of cleanliness in the school, is making the students more aware of their responsibilities.
“It is the children’s responsibility to maintain the register of the fund, and get the supplies whenever they are needed. This helps them be more aware of their responsibilities,” Pandey points out.
Arjun Kumar, one of the teachers of the school added, “Although it is voluntary in nature, we, teachers, and others contribute to the fund. This collective act somehow gives everyone a sense of ownership towards the school, that it should be neat and tidy”.
In the Upper Middle School at Maniyarpur in the same district, Mohammad RakibAlam of class 8, who is the health minister of the child cabinet, uses the hygiene fund to get the toilets cleaned by a sweeper from outside the school.
“We students do clean the rest of the campus, but we use the fund to get the toilets cleaned by someone else. The fund money, which is roughly around Rs.300-400 every month, is also used to get things like dustbin, soap, disinfectant and glasses to drink water,” Alam says.
“I have other responsibilities too,” he mentions. “I check everyone’s finger nails at the morning prayer and ensure that they are trimmed and clean. I check that everyone’s uniform is clean, and if anyone disobeys me, I tell my teacher”.
Pankaj Kumar, the education minister, ensures that all classes are in session and that children of a class read their text quietly in case of a teacher’s absence. Abhimanyu Kumar of class 8, who is the environment minister, gets the plants watered in the school campus.
But of what use is a leader who cannot lead by example? Nitesh, as serious as he is about his responsibility of being the prime minister, folded up his pants and climbed up the stairs to the terrace of the school building, which also has the staff room, to clean the overhead water tank.
“We maintain a roster and everyone gets the duty to clean the water tank before the rest of the students come, and then use the hand-pump to fill it up again. Today was my duty, so I did it. After all, cleanliness is important for us to remain healthy,” he says with a smile.