Many schools in Tamil Nadu are suddenly roof-less. They had thatched roofs, and after last year's horrible fire tragedy in Kumbakonam, the TN government has decreed that all such thatched roofs must go. Upshot is that many schools have their classes out in the open. What happens with the rains?
One post-tsunami effort I know of is putting concrete roofs on these school buildings. What does this have to do with the tsunami, you ask? Only this: the people behind this effort want to address more than just the tsunami-caused problems. After all, these villages had problems that needed addressing even had there been no tsunami. The wave has opened up an opportunity, that's all.
So these people are also working on two other issues with schools in the area. Oddly enough, both have to do with answering this question: how can you keep schoolkids in school?
Answer #1: mid-day meals.
Answer #2: toilets.
Most schools have a small structure where women sit to cook the mid-day meal on a wood-fueled fire. I look inside one: walls black with soot, smoke everywhere enough to make me cough, two women emerge from the gloaming to tell me what's on the menu for lunch. This is typical. And yet this one school-provided meal -- one utterly basic meal -- is an important reason many kids in TN attend and stay in school.
The schools will soon have new and better-ventilated structures for cooking the meals, where the fire will be fueled by ...
... biogas, from new toilets.
Most schools do not have toilets. When they have to go, boys and girls alike go out into the nearby fields. When puberty arrives, the girls won't do this any more. Therefore, they stop coming to school. That simple.
So these schools are getting new toilet blocks, one for each sex, a septic tank in the middle. The plan is to use biogas from the tank as fuel for the mid-day meal.
I went to TN to look at what's happening, six months after the tsunami. I didn't expect to learn about how roofs, toilets, kitchens, biogas and puberty are sometimes connected. But I'm glad I did.