Puppets and peers teach Indonesian children the importance of handwashing
By Arie Rukmantara and Suzanna Dayne
KLATEN, Indonesia, 10 October 2008 – Students at a small rural elementary school here are learning a lesson that could save their lives. It’s a simple habit that many people around the world take for granted: being able to wash their hands with soap.
Just a few months ago, Beteng Elementary School did not have running water or proper toilets for its 150 students, until UNICEF helped build a water tank, sinks and toilets. The project requires that the school also take a role in the project, with parents and teachers helping to build the facilities.
The programme doesn’t stop there. Next the students are taught why it’s so important for them to wash their hands with soap. The students then spread the message through songs and puppet shows to their classmates.
“Washing your hands with soap stops you from getting sick and stops you from making someone else sick,” Dwi Winarsih, 12, tells her friends. “If you don’t do that you could get really sick with worms, diarrhoea or even worse, bird flu!”
This may be a simple children’s play but the facts are that almost 2 million children die every year from diseases spread by hands.
Diarrhoea is preventable and treatable, yet families in developing countries continue to pay the price in lost lives, missed school days, reduced resistance to infections, impaired growth, malnutrition and poverty.
Cost-effective health measure
When coupled with educational initiatives, handwashing with soap is a cost-effective preventive health intervention that can halve the risk of not only diarrhoea but also more severe illnesses – including cholera and dysentery.
“Since we have new toilets and sinks, the number of students getting sick has dropped,” said the principal of Beteng, Siti Nurnafiah. “It’s very important for these children to attend school regularly so I hope this trend continues.”
UNICEF Indonesia and the Klaten District Administration are making sure that water is also available in local villages so that students such as Dwi can continue to practice what they learn in school and wash their hands regularly at home.
Children need facilities at home
“We work together with communities to build rainwater catchment systems,“ said UNICEF Project Officer Claire Quilet. “It’s not enough just to provide proper sanitation in schools. These children need the same facilities at home.”
Dwi and her friends say they never knew how important it was to wash with soap. “Imagine,” she said, “You can actually save a life just by washing your hands!”