Philippines: school sanitation sparks ‘Bayanihan’ spirit in small village

The Filipino spirit of communal unity, ‘Bayanihan’, prevented school toilets provided by UNICEF going unused because of a lack of water. Parents contributed money for the purchase of containers of water in each toilet every school day.

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.

Pupils were often forced to use the nearest bushes and tended to loiter around, missing part of their lessons.

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.

In 2009 all seven classrooms in Salag Elementary School got new toilets.

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.

A grade schooler washes her hands using the water bought with funds from the parents, an initiative inspired by Unicef's health and sanitation campaign in schools. Photo: PIA

However, after the toilets were completed at the Salag Elementary School, it faced a dilemma because it had no piped water supply.

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.

Principal Millard thinks he knows why the parents chipped in.

“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”.

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Source: Rachelle M. Nessia, PIA, 13 Ju 2010

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