Over 14 million Bangladeshi children join the global hand washing bandwagon
Narsingdi, Dhaka, 20 November 2008. A teenage boy takes some friends to his home for lunch but his sister-in-law refuses to serve them food because they do not want to wash their hands with soap before eating. Annoyed, he storms out of the house with his friends, saying that he would rather eat out in a restaurant than face such humiliation at home. At the restaurant they order food but the waiter asks them to wash their hands with soap before taking their seats. The boys refuse but the waiter does not allow them to sit, explaining that the restaurant will not take responsibility if they fall sick due to germs on their hands. The boys learn an important lesson and return home to apologise and promise to always wash their hands with soap before eating.
This is the synopsis of a play created and staged by the students of Puranpara Government Primary School in Narsingdi Sadar upazila (sub-district) in central Bangladesh as they observed the Global Hand Washing Day on October 22nd.
More than 14.4 million Bangladeshi children from nearly 73,000 schools joined in this event, pledging to promote hand washing with soap after using the toilet and before eating. Millions of children from over 70 countries across the continents also participated in the Global Hand Washing Day. This initiative – the first of its kind - was organized by the Global Public Private Partnership on Hand Washing (PPPHW), which includes soap companies, NGOs, and UN organizations.
At Puranpara Government Primary School in Narsingdi district, a wall magazine was displayed, encouraging students to participate in a painting competition with the theme of a hand washing. A total of 300 students were present and actively involved in various activities. Shuchi, Pakhee and Faisal demonstrated before their peers the correct method of hand washing with soap. Shuchi described the six critical times for the students to wash their hands: before eating; before feeding children; before preparing or serving food; after using the latrine; after cleaning babies; and after disposal of child faeces. Faisal sang a song insisting all students copy him by using safe hand-washing practices (Cholo jai, haath dhui).
Fahima Tabassum Oishi, a Class-V student, said that whenever she sees someone at home or outside eating without washing their hands with soap, she warns them of the health hazards and teaches them the correct way to wash their hands. Majedul Haque Shubho, a speech-impaired student of the same class, demonstrated the methodical way of hand washing.
“Now there is a health and hygiene education session in most schools. All teachers and School Management Committee members received training on sanitation, hygiene and safe water issues. Most school-going students are now aware of basic hygiene issues”, said Fatema Jahan Dilruba, Head Mistress of the school. Because of this sensitization, we have had the collective support of the Management Committee, the Parents’ Committee and other community stakeholders to teach our students on these issues. We also formed Students’ Brigade to look into any breach in personal hygiene and health issues. ”
This hygiene and sanitation promotion in schools is one of the interventions supported by UNICEF in collaboration with the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE). It is part of a larger UNICEF project - the Sanitation, Hygiene Education and Water Supply in Bangladesh (SHEWA-B) project, funded by the UK Government.
“In Narsingdi Sadar upazila there are 57,242 families. Of these, about 86 per cent are now using sanitary latrines”, explained Md. Mostafa Ahmed, DPHE Sub-Assistant Engineer. “However some people are still not using any latrine. Therefore it is very important that schools can champion the use of latrines as well as the practice of hand washing. All the schools received Hand Washing Day kits containing a letter to the headmaster, two 100gm soap bars, a leaflet showing hand-washing techniques, two posters and a certificate.”
“Even from a religious perspective, personal hygiene and cleanliness have been described as a basic tenet of Islam”, commented Hafez Md. Abdul Quasem , a Union Parishad member, during the debate. So, all must abide by these basic rules of hygiene and students must learn these things as a part of their regular educational curricula.” For Md. Shamsul Alam, Head Master of the school, this learning should be taken beyond the schools, into the households and the larger society: “If we want to help the remaining 14 per cent of the families of the sub-district to adopt proper sanitation practices, we must share the knowledge with them so that they will be motivated to change their behaviour.”
“The slogan of the day is: ‘Your Health is in Your Hands’, concluded Md. Abdul Mannan, Upazilla Education Officer. Nothing can be more true. As studies have proven that effective hand washing with soap before meals and after using the toilet is the single most inexpensive health intervention in the world. It can drastically reduce the number of pneumonia and diarrhoea cases and cut related deaths by half. There is no point to save on a 7 TK soap to end up spending 700 TK on health treatment because of the lack of hygiene.”