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By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Nepal - In Arghakhanchi district, 460 kilometres west of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, community schools are being repurposed as quarantine centres during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of a total sanitation campaign launched in July 2019 by the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) and UN-Habitat with support from Prakash Awareness Group (PRAG) as its implementing partner, 34 schools were identified as “model community schools” to improve their WASH infrastructure and standards.
All of the schools were equipped with a bio-sand filter, toilet maintenance, separate male and female toilets – including menstrual hygiene management (MHM)-friendly toilets for women and adequate hand-washing stations.
Seven of these model community schools also implemented rainwater harvesting schemes, and 20 of them have formed MHM concern groups that have been playing an active role in the community while all of the 34 schools have established sanitation resource centres.
In Nepal, it is mandatory for all returnees to stay in a quarantine centre for 14 days and receive a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19. In Arghakhanchi, out of 34 quarantines centres, 32 are GSF/UN-Habitat-supported model community schools.
Mr Ganesh Bhusal, who was quarantined in one of the model community schools after returning from India, explains that he was worried about having to stay in a quarantine centre, due to media reports of poor living conditions.
“I have been here for almost 20 days, and all my anxiety regarding my stay at quarantine has subsided after receiving high-quality services, clean toilet with running water, filtered water from the bio-sand filter and greenery and clean environment at school,” says Mr Bhusal, who has been waiting for the result of his polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19.
The improvements made to WASH infrastructure in the model community schools and regular orientation on sanitation, including hand-washing, menstrual health and hygiene management, separate toilets with running water, in addition to training and capacity development on sanitation and hygiene for school-level stakeholders, have helped the community schools to become model quarantine centres.
“In other quarantine centres, there were complaints of lack of basic facilities such as clean toilets, hand-washing facilities and running water. But we had already taken care of that before the COVID-19 outbreak, which came as a great relief,” explains Mr Rajan Bhusal, Programme Officer of Prakash Awareness Group.
Ms Khumkala Bhusal, a community health volunteer at Ward Number 3 of Bhimikasthan Municipality of Arghakhanchi, adds, “I have been assisting and collecting data of the people residing in quarantine, and I found that people living in the model schools seem much happier compared to those in non-model schools and they also complain less about the toilet use, hand-washing facilities and other living arrangements.”
Acknowledging the support provided by the GSF/UN-Habitat, Mr Resham Bahadur Chhetri, Mayor of Bhumikasthan Municipality, said, “The model schools have become a blessing for us during this pandemic, as we need not worry about the toilet use, safe drinking water and the waste management. This is not the case for every school, and we need to make earnest efforts to manage the cost of the necessary resources.”
“This pandemic is like a wake-up call for us. It has made us realize the importance of basic things like hand-washing and why we need to invest in sanitation and hygiene,” said Mr Chhetri as he sets out his intention to hold discussions with local governments to allocate sufficient budget for sanitation and hygiene.