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I think the work I'm doing for drinking water, sanitation and toilets is really important. If we wash our hands, we won't fall ill. I'm really proud to be a leader of the wash brigade.
She speaks with such confidence that it's easy to forget Sakshi is just 12 years old.
But with her vision and determination, this schoolgirl in Mahoba district, Uttar Pradesh – one of India’s poorest and most deprived states – has been taking the Prime Minister’s ‘Clean India Mission’ into her own hands, changing the lives of her friends and family.
Waiting for a toilet
Although she loved to study, Sakshi didn’t like going to school because there was just one toilet for 341 children – boys and girls. The queues were huge and the kids would miss lessons because they had to wait so long to relieve themselves.
There was no soap for handwashing either, so the children would often get sick with stomach aches and vomiting.
But with the support of the H&M Conscious Foundation and WaterAid, Sakshi's school was able to build clean water points and separate toilet blocks for boys and girls.
"When the new toilets were built, I used to turn on the taps and see how the water flowed. It felt really good," says Sakshi. "Now, we don’t even have to miss our studies."
The Wash Brigade
Sakshi and 14 similarly dedicated students have started a club called the Wash Brigade which promotes good hygiene in the school, like handwashing with soap. Sakshi is proud to be its president.
"I really like being leader of the Wash Brigade," she enthuses. "I think it’s really important. I look at how children are washing their hands. If they are not washing them properly, I tell them how to do it."
The pocket money toilet fund
Sakshi was so motivated by the changes happening at school that she asked her father to build a toilet at home so she would no longer have to go outside in the open. When he told her that they couldn’t afford it, she began to think of another way to fund the new toilet.
"I said to him whatever money my aunt and uncle gives me, I will save it in my piggy bank, and you can take that money."
Sakshi’s father agreed, and a few months later her wish of having a toilet at home became a reality. Her friends are now saving their pocket money for toilets too.
‘Girls are no less than boys’
Despite the gender inequality and poor female literacy rates in the region, girls such as Sakshi are driving change in their communities, helping to transform not only their schools, but also their local areas. "I tell everyone about hygiene and sanitation in my community," Sakshi says. "That is why it stays clean."
With access to clean water and proper toilets, the students are empowered to live healthier lives, stay in school and to fulfill their potential, opening up a world of possibilities.
Sakshi dreams of becoming a doctor so that she can help people who can’t afford healthcare.
"Everyone has their own dream. I know that if I study I will definitely become a doctor. My mother tells me that you should become something and show everyone that girls are no less than boys."