A persistent stench invaded the classrooms of the Panchayat Union Middle School at Kurumbapatty every day. Students constantly faced symptoms of fever, nausea and stomach ache that prompted them to take leave from school.
Initially they thought that the problem would diminish if they bathed daily using soap, wore clean clothes and kept their hair clean. But later they felt “the stench” to be the cause behind the illness.
Inspired by the simple four-step formula of Feel-Imagine-Do- Share that has been developed by Design for Change – a not-for-profit organisation that challenges children to solve problems in their community – the students decided to actively investigate the matter.
They set up a five-member committee – comprising 13-year-olds Supikpandian, Santhosh, Dhiyanithi, Ragul, and Prabaharan – to identify the cause of the stench, and came to realise that the source of the problem was actually the school toilet. Being an ill-equipped toilet, the boys would have to urinate on the floor, causing their sandals and feet to be sprinkled by drops of urine. This transported the stench into the classrooms. Coupled with the toilet’s faulty drainage system, the issue was a cause for urinary infections.
As the cost of installing urinals was high, the boys came up with an imaginative solution. While drinking water from an upside down 20 litre plastic bottle, one of the boys imagined that the bottle resembled a urinal. Taking this thought further, under the mentorship of Kesavan D, the boys decided to cut the bottles longitudinally to generate urinals. To procure the bottles, they approached a seller.
Congratulating the students on their idea, the seller handed over used, damaged, and leaking water bottles free-of-cost.
Then came the task of setting up the toilet. Using funds collected from the students and teachers, the students purchased other necessary pipes and parts. First, they re-painted the walls of the toilet in a brighter green, and then set up the drainage system in such a way that urine could easily exit through pipes connected to the necks of the bottles.
To flush the urinals after use, they set up a line of drip irrigation pipes above the urinals.
Low-cost, lightweight, and durable, the students imagine this product – which they call a ‘Safe Mode Pissing System’ – to be a scalable solution, easily implementable in places that have poor infrastructure. They have gone from school to school, creating awareness about problems that come with unsanitary toilets, and demonstrating how to implement the urinals. About the potential impact of their project, they say, “We can implement this project not only in schools, but also in houses and public places. We can prevent urinary infections and stenches by implementing it. This will reduce the number of patients in the community. Through this project, we can make the country clean and hygienic…We can observe the motive of the scheme ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India).”
The students at PUMS went on to win the ‘Boldest Idea’ award from amongst 3,600 Stories of Change submitted for the ‘I CAN Awards 2016’ organised by Design for Change. The Village Education Committee also appreciated the project locally, and honoured the students with prizes.