Diya Gupta

Writer


The Gift that You Made

7:44 PM, Tuesday, 4th November, 2014
Children have fun at a hand washing station
Shaun in front of the new primary school toilets
The new toilets against their scenic backdrop
A good few months back, many of you made generous gifts for the wellbeing and education of the children of Spiti. You weren’t aware of any more than that, and frankly neither was Shaun nor I. It’s difficult to ascertain the particular needs of a community without being there, and better still, living there for a while. Shaun and I have now spent six months at Munsel-ling School, and pretty soon it became obvious to us what the priority need of this boarding school was: better health and hygiene facilities for the children.

Munsel-ling School is burgeoning. This is an indicator of its success over the past 18 years in Spiti, and the confidence parents place in sending their children there. Most of the students come from hamlets that dot the rugged sparseness of the landscape across this vast and ancient valley. Commuting daily for them is simply not feasible, and so they avail of the hostel facilities at the school. This brings a raft of consequences in its wake.

The good ones. The children like being at school, and living with their friends. Coming from villages comprising at times as few as five or six houses, they find it hard to meet children their own age. School gives them a giant socialising space – just as important in their development as getting quality education. Their daily schedule may be a rigorous one; they may find their studies difficult and irksome at times; but the children enjoy being with each other.

The not so good ones. Munsel-ling now has over 550 students – but it was never built for so many! It grew organically, in response to popular demand. As a result, the children live cheek by jowl with each other, often sharing the same towel and bar of soap, not being able to wash their bedclothes regularly, and most importantly, not being able to wash themselves as frequently as they should! Disease therefore spreads rapidly, and diarrhoeal rates are high, as our friends from the University of British Columbia found.

The toilet facilities, in particular, need improvement, both in terms of numbers and provision of hand-washing stations. Shaun and I have therefore used your gifts to build eight brand new toilets for the primary school students, four for the boys and four for the girls. These are the first toilets in the school to be purpose-built right next to a hand-washing station. The school’s Health Council has also promised to continue promoting hand washing to the children as vital for the prevention of disease.

The toilets are Indian-style (squatting does wonders for building strength in your thighs, I speak from experience!). They will need to be flushed manually, so a steady store of water will be supplied. However, what this does mean is that the toilets will not be usable in the long winter months, when the piped water supply freezes. In any case, though, the primary school children do not attend school after the first week of December – it is far too cold. By the time they are back next year in warmer weather, the water supply will be up and running too.

These eight toilets are built on top of an innovative, three-compartmental septic tank that will separate the liquid and solid waste effectively, and will not need to be emptied for at least 15 to 20 years. The liquid waste will be carried off to a separate leach pit, now being built for all the new toilets of the school.

Yes, there are more toilets on the horizon! A large gift made from the UK is supporting new toilets and bathing facilities for the girls aged between 12 and 16 years. This was sorely needed – girls of that age need privacy. I certainly wouldn’t go to a toilet if I knew that some pesky boys were lurking around the corner to tease me! These toilets will also have adjacent hand-washing facilities and solar heaters for bucket baths with hot water – an excellent solution in sunny Spiti. Our flat has solar heaters for water, and they work beautifully.

The school also plans to run educational programmes for the children on how to use toilets properly and how to leave them clean for the next child. Especially for the little children, this will need plenty of supervision from teachers. Think of how gross public toilets can get, even in the UK! It is a challenge for the school to take on this type of training, but it is much needed, and the school realises why it is important.

Now for the fun stuff! We had a lovely donor from the UK who read my blog and generously supported the children in what they like doing best – playing cricket! The school now has spanking new cricket equipment: quality bats, balls, pads, helmets, wicket keeper’s gloves, wickets, stumps – the works. The shopkeeper even threw in a couple of footballs! The boys, especially, are delighted.

But there is more. Thanks once again to the same donor, the school is now getting proper cricket clothes, both tops and tracksuit bottoms. The school’s logo will be printed on the front, and the clothes colour coded according to the four ‘houses’ of the school – Gyamber, Serchen, Lukri and Pangyen, the names of flowers in Bhoti, the local dialect. I can’t wait to see photographs of the children in their new clothes, ready to play a cricket tournament!

Many, many thanks to those of you who trusted Shaun and me (even though you had never even heard of Spiti back then!), and donated generously. We can assure you that there couldn’t have been a better cause for your gifts.

The online giving page will remain open, and we will direct your gifts to other projects within the school as they arise. Thank you again!

Comments.
Diya on 1:59 PM, 7th November, 2014
Cheers, Dunstan!
Dunstan on 8:31 PM, 6th November, 2014
Great work Diya and Shaun!
Diya on 12:18 PM, 5th November, 2014
Thanks, Baba!
Diya on 12:15 PM, 5th November, 2014
Cheers, Laura! Love that you read all the posts! :-)
Ujjal on 10:38 AM, 5th November, 2014
Good on you - Diya and Shaun and the donors. Well done.
Jason the Great on 2:51 AM, 5th November, 2014
Really nice to read how the money is being used, very important for the childrens future - the cricket bats I mean! ;D
Laura Clark on 10:18 PM, 4th November, 2014
Amazing post Diya, great to see the school getting what it needs! Huge well done to you and Shaun for what you've undertaken there, and all you've achieved.
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