Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Washing hands in a group - an initiative to promote healthy hygiene practice in school

Children are lined up, approaching as a group to the handwashing facility set at the school yard before they have their midday meal at the Escola Basica Filial Vila Verde School. The six meter long tub with running water and soap hanged in front, provides access to the students to wash hands with soap.  The class teacher keeps an eye on that student’s maintained discipline and wash their hands with soap in an appropriate manner. This is an everyday scenario at the school now a days before mid-day meal. 

“The aim of the initiative is to improve health of the children in our school by introducing appropriate and affordable handwashing facility,” said Adelaide de Sá Benevides, 62, School Coordinator. This practice will not only protect children from the disease but also help them to develop safe hygiene practice in their everyday life,” she continued.

Establishing group hand washing facility


Students are washing hands with soap before mid-day meal.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/BSoares
As in many other schools in Timor-Leste, the earlier handwashing facilities in the Escola Basica Filial Vila Verde were inadequate to cater the needs of a large number of students. As a result, children had to wait for a long time, missing part of the learning hours or even ending up eating without washing their hands with soap.

Studies have shown that more than 40 per cent of diarrhoeal diseases among school children is contracted in schools environment due to poor sanitation and hygiene conditions . Use of sanitation facility and handwashing with soap at critical times (after using a toilet and before eating) can significantly protect children from diarrhoea. 

“The Ministry of Education is implementing “school feeding programme” to improve the learning outcomes through improved health and nutrition of children. However, the benefit of the initiative has not reached its full potential due to limited enabling environment such as access to adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities’, says Ramesh Bhusal, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme of UNICEF.

“There were only two functioning handwashing basins in the school in the past. Considering the number of students around 260 student in one shift (school has two shifts a day), this is grossly inadequate to facilitate handwashing with soap at critical times, especially before school meal. As a result, the majority of students eat the meal without washing their hands. The situation is similar in most of the schools in Timor-Leste,” said Adelaide de Sá Benevides.

With the financial and technical support from UNICEF, Ministry of Education (MoE) has installed a Group Handwashing Facilities (GHWF) in Escola Basica Filial Villa Verde in Dili to cater the needs of the students. With the new model Group handwashing facility, 48 students can use the facility at one time and in 10 – 20 minutes all students can WASH their hands with soap. 

Changing habits
Washing hands is not a common practice yet in Timor-Leste even for the adults. Group handwashing facility is a way to motivate students to wash their hands with soap before eating in school and encourage the students to introduce handwashing practice to their parents at home and other friends in their community. 

Washing hands is a simple act but it has a big impact on human’s health especially, for the students. They are not learning only science in school, but they are also learning how to create a healthy environment for themselves by practicing handwashing with soap in school”, said Maria do Ceu Minister of Health while inaugurating the newly established handwashing device in the school. 

The handwashing facility was inaugurated on 15 April 2015 attended by Gastão Francisco de Sousa, the Minister of Public Work, Transportation and Communication, Maria do Ceu, Minister of Health, Dulce de Jesus Soares, Vice Minister of Education and Desiree M. Jongsma, UNICEF Timor-Leste Representative. 

This new handwashing facility brings joy among the students. “Before I use to fight with friends to get a chance for washing hands as we had limited facilities. Now, we can wash hands as a group with soap and running water.  I do realise that washing hands is very important to protect myself from disease,” said Janova Senhorinha da Costa Freitas (11), a 6th grade student.

“I feel happy to see my kids are learning the benefit of handwashing and practicing washing hands with soap. They are inspiring me as well to do so at home,” said Maria Antonia, 24, a mother, whose two children are students of the school.

UNICEF is committed to support Government to scale-up group handwashing facilities in other schools of Timor-Leste as well as this is one of the most effective and efficient options to inculcate healthy hygiene behavior among schoolchildren.

By Antonio Gomes - UNICEF Communication Officer

 


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