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Flushing away rural schools' toilet misery


14:45, January 19, 2013

GUIYANG, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- For 14-year-old Yu Wenmin, answering nature's call at school used to be a nightmare.

"Our school toilet never needed a sign, you could just tell where it was by your nose," says Yu, of Anlong Middle School in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

The toilet at Anlong Middle School of Anlong County was the typical rural kind without any flushing or hand-washing facilities. All the excrement used to be gouged away once a semester. With only this occasional improvement, the facilities for the school's 396 students were merely a foul, smelly dumping ground.

"When I used the toilet, I had to hold my breath, step firmly on the verge of the pit and squat, not daring to see what's down there," frowns Yu.

No longer. In September 2012, the old toilet at Anlong Middle School was renovated into a modern one with flushing and hand-washing facilities. A private room is also available in the ladies' bathroom for female sanitation.

"It's so clean and convenient. I no longer need to worry about falling down into the toilet," says a beaming Yu.

The improvement is among a number of sanitary upgrades to the school this semester, results of a project linking three pilot schools in Anlong with UNICEF and the All-China Women's Federation since February 2012. Through creating a safe and sustainable environment, the scheme aims to increase awareness of personal hygiene and environmental protection among rural kids.

So besides the toilet, Yu also found other changes in and around the classroom. A solar heating system was set up in bathrooms; electronic kettles and cups are placed in classrooms so that students can drink hot water in winter. A special field was created for growing vegetables and raising hens to add more nutrition to students' school lunches.

UNICEF is aware that toilet facilities and attitudes toward personal hygiene in more remote Chinese provinces continues to lag behind the situation in cities. As such, it is targeting expanding its program to more schools across the nation.

"People are ashamed of toilets, especially in rural China," says Dr. Yang Zhenbo, UNICEF water and sanitation specialist. "Toilets are seen as a filthy place and people refuse to invest much in them when they build new houses or new schools.

"But actually, toilets are very important in terms of building a healthy and sustainable future for children."

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