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Manipal student rebuilds Maharashtra school

Sanjana Shastri raised Rs 3 lakh in 33 days through crowd-funding to build toilets and set up other basic facilities at a govt school. Her inspiring story is all about grit, conviction and social responsibility.

It was another drive for Sanjana Shastri, a student at Manipal University, and her family through the Mumbai-Gujarat highway. Just that it was not. The sight of a dilapidated government school at Vikramgad, over 100 km away from Mumbai, shook Sanjana up, in particular. The family stopped the car and closely inspected the school premises. They could not believe what they saw. Everything was in ruins: there was no basic facility and the state of toilets was shocking.

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The family continued their journey, but that sight played on the 21-year-old’s mind for a long time. Months later, she was back in school, to donate fans and bulbs to the school, using her birthday money. But there was more to do. The state of the girls’ washrooms and the general state of hygiene left her in deep shock.

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“I found out that many students missed school during monsoon for lack of facility. I also realized students had to get water to drink and wash and use in the bathroom from faraway village wells. While I wanted to rebuild toilets for girls, it would be of no use if there was no running water. So my first step was to get access to a village well,” says Sanjana.

Her parents stood with her throughout the entire process. Her mother, along with teachers, met the village panchayat and got permission to use water from the nearest well. The next plan was to install a pump and draw a pipeline.

“Parents of schoolchildren dug the pipeline and my parents decided to fund the expenses. Thus, we got proper water connection in the school,” says Sanjana.

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The next plan was ostensibly to build toilets for the students. To fund the toilet block, Sanjana thought of asking her parents’ help again, but to her surprise, many of her friends and relatives said they were ready to chip in. “There was an overwhelming response from my friends when they heard about our plans to ‘adopt’ the school.

“It was then I decided that crowd-funding was the best option. This allows a large number of people to make a difference to these young girls. Whomever I spoke to was very enthusiastic about the plan,” says she.

Sanjana’s goal was to raise Rs 3 lakh in 45 days, but the task was completed in just 33 days. The plan included constructing six latrines, including one western, and one washbasin. The work was wrapped up in June.

The students are now responsible for the cleanliness of the toilets.

“When I visit the school the next time, I plan to give a talk on hygiene basics like the right way to wash hands, use the bathroom and talk to girls who are from classes 5th to 7th Standard about menstrual health and hygiene. I’m optimistic that these students take these lessons home and teach their parents and community members the basics elements of hygiene and its importance. When I spoke to teachers, I realised that most students come to school because they provide mid-day meals. I hope that now with the construction of the toilets, they actually look forward to going to school and learning. They also tell me that students miss around 40 days of school due to health reasons. Students hopefully now will not miss school due to health issues which were due to the unsanitary state of the toilets,” says Sanjana.

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Sanjana decided to name the bathroom in honor of her late grandmother, Bakula Patil Shastri, who was a fierce advocate of women’s rights and education. “I’m sure if she was there with us today, she would be leading the campaign at its forefront,” says Sanjana.

The school now sports a completely new look. The walls are painted in bright colours, adorned with educational messages for students. Thanks to the new facilities, it was used as a voting centre for the first time last elections.

After her graduation, Sanjana now wants to build toilets for another school for girls and make them aware of sanitation and hygiene.

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