Project Swachhagraha teaches young students to respect work done by sanitation workers
Ahmedabad, June 13, 2022
When 14-year-old Hitesha was asked to present a rose to a sanitation worker who cleans toilets in her school, she looked around at her teacher and her fellow pupils and hesitated. She seemed confused.
When a teacher asked Hitesha why she was waiting, she said, “My grandmother has told me not to go near such people because they are dirty.”
It is because of this attitude, so rife within society, that Hitesha’s school, Adani Vidya Mandir (AVM) in Ahmedabad, launched its "Safai ke Sitare" campaign. The school seeks to inculcate in its students — in keeping with the aims of the Adani Foundation’s Swachhagraha movement — a culture of acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of all workers, including those who do so-called "dirty" jobs.
The school’s intervention attempts to create both a positive behavioural change towards sanitation workers and their crucial role in maintaining cleanliness.
Despite doing such vital work, cleaners are often looked down upon and discriminated against in the country. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to retreat and stay indoors, sanitation workers were frontline warriors alongside healthcare professionals. The services of these workers were correctly deemed essential.
“The project was launched in 2014-15 and implemented in 100 schools after permission from the Ahmedabad district education officer. We trained the principal and one teacher at each of these schools,” said Jignesh R. Vibhandik, National Project Coordinator, Swachhagraha.
“They are known as swachhagraha preraks after training. Schools appoint swachhagrahis, a group of around 20 students, to run this project that continues for 15–20 days. Swachhagrahis take a selfie or velfie (1-minute video) with the Sanitation Stars and upload it along with a creatively written caption and a story. The caption should explain who is in the photo with them—name of sanitation worker, place, workplace, nature of his/ her job and the importance of his/her role as a sanitation worker in our life and society,” he added.
The project draws inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s "Satyagraha" and introduces the principles expressed in the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan to children and young people. It gives young citizens a platform to express their own learnings and to teach and inspire their elders to show respect for all work.
So far, schools have got a positive reaction from children, though there were initial hiccups and inhibitions. They have started to respect sanitation workers and keep their classrooms and school campuses clean.
The five-year-long project ended in 2019. It was launched in all the government and private grant-aid schools in Mumbai in February-March 2020 but was put on hold during the lockdown.
This year, it will be launched in schools in Mumbai and Delhi.