Lhakpa Quendren

Zhemgang—An inclusive toilet was built at Zhemgang Primary School to help children with special needs. Now, Zhemgang Dzongkhag plans to offer more inclusive services. They’re constructing a similar toilet at Zhemgang Central School.

The education sector in the dzongkhag also suggested building a hostel for these children in the 13th Plan.

Zhemgang Primary School is among 13 schools and monastic institutions in Bhutan that received support from UNICEF for inclusive and climate-resilient toilets. UNICEF funded the toilet at the primary school, while the one at the central school is funded by the World Bank. Each project received a budget of Nu 2 million. Both schools are inclusive, meaning they welcome all students, including those with special needs.

The inauguration of the inclusive toilet at Zhemgang Primary School happened yesterday, coinciding with World Water Day. This day is part of UNICEF’s celebration of 50 years of progress for children in Bhutan. Noala Skinner, UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, emphasized that such facilities are more than just about sanitation; they’re about inclusion and support for all children.

“This reflects the dedication we witnessed last year when the Parliament approved the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” she said. “This ensures that every child, no matter their abilities, can have the chance to achieve their fullest potential with respect and dignity.”

For a child with a disability, knowing that their needs are being looked after when they come to school is extremely important, Noala Skinner said. “Therefore, let’s pledge today to ensure that every child in Bhutan has access to clean water and proper hygiene, which are their basic rights.”

Zhemgang Dzongdag Kesang Jigme mentioned that among the seven main strategies they’ve outlined to reach their goal of becoming a prosperous and harmonious district by 2034, one is to enhance human potential. This involves offering top-notch education, skill development, and healthcare services to the people.

“We believe that a highly productive population will play a crucial role in driving continuous socioeconomic progress,” he said. “Therefore, support from organisations like UNICEF and others will greatly contribute to shaping our youth into productive members of society for the future.”

An inclusive toilet is essential for achieving universal access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in schools. UNICEF has helped set up eight such facilities in schools with Special Education Needs programs. These facilities have benefited 287 children with disabilities.

Additionally, UNICEF has aided in constructing five inclusive toilets in monastic schools, benefiting 335 child monks and nuns, including those with disabilities.

According to data from the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD), 92 percent of schools in Bhutan have access to safe drinking water, and 97 percent have improved sanitation.

Karma Wangchuk, Chief of the Health and Wellbeing Division within the ministry, mentioned that building on the initiative to construct inclusive toilets with UNICEF, the ministry plans to build 16 more inclusive toilets in schools with the SEN program over the next two years.

“We have good coverage of WASH facilities in schools, but challenges remain in terms of quality of toilets, quantity, and safety,” he said.

Zhemgang Primary School’s Principal, Karchung, said that an inclusive toilet facility will improve health and hygiene standards. He added that caring for children with disabilities has become more manageable for both the school administration and the parents.

“We are striving to make all facilities as inclusive as possible. For example, we have connected the footpath between the library and the assembly ground to accommodate wheelchair users,” he said.

The school currently has 20 students with special needs, including 19 students with learning disabilities.

A joint press release from the UNICEF Bhutan and MoESD stated that access to water is a basic human right, one that underpins progress and builds the foundation for all other rights, especially those related to children’s survival, nutrition, health, education, protection, and wellbeing.