At a glance: Ghana

Ghanaian children benefit from UNICEF 'IWASH' project

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
Ahmed, 12, shows his classmates the correct way to wash their hands at a primary school in northern Ghana.

By Nerida Williams

TAMALE, Ghana, 8 September 2010 – They say it takes a village to raise a child. But children themselves are equally capable of important work, as UNICEF Ghana’s new handwashing project, known as ‘IWASH,’ is proving.

Directly targeted at children of primary school age, the programme is yielding results that are already rippling throughout entire villages.

Learning about handwashing

Worldwide, diarrhoea remains the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five. Nearly one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year – is due to diarrhoea. The illness kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
Children from a primary school in northern Ghana look on as UNICEF officers from the 'IWASH' project demonstrate handwashing with soap.

More shocking even than these staggering statistics is the fact that deaths from diarrhoea are easily preventable. Simple, inexpensive treatments exist which can help prevent a child becoming dehydrated and dying.

On a warm day in mid-June, I entered a classroom in a remote village in Ghana’s northern region with a visiting team from UNICEF. Before us sat no fewer than 70 children, which, according to the headmaster, is one of the school’s smaller classes. The children rose as we entered, politely greeting us in perfectly rehearsed English: “Good morning, we are fine.”

My guide for the day was the District Resource Coordinator for the IWASH project, Issah-Bello. He began asking the students about handwashing with soap. They seemed to have a critical understanding of the possible health effects of not washing their hands. Yet even armed with knowledge and a handwashing facility at the school – which is jointly provided by UNICEF and the European Union – students say it is not always easy to wash.

Disease prevention

“One night my father was coming [home] to eat in a hurry,” recalled one student, Ahmed, 12. “I told him, please wash your hands with soap before eating, this is what our teachers told us to do.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
A young girl from the Demonstration Primary School in the remote village of Bimbila, northern Ghana, practices washing her hands with soap.

Ahmed said that he then rushed into the adjoining room to fetch some soap for his father, who proceeded to wash his hands before eating. In a culture where age is respected above all else and parents aren’t frequently questioned by their children, Ahmed displayed enormous courage.

UNICEF Ghana estimates that diarrhoea is responsible for about 18 per cent of the deaths among children under five. But these deaths can be easily prevented through the provision of clean water and basic behavioural changes such as treating diarrhoea at home with Oral Rehydrating Salts (ORS), exclusive breastfeeding before six months of age and handwashing with soap at critical times of the day.

Ambassadors for change

By targeting hard-to-reach communities and increasing access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation, the IWASH project is working to help Ghana achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals targets related to safe water and sanitation, as well as child mortality. The MDGs, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide, call for reducing the by half the proportion of people around the world without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the year 2015.

After ending our classroom visit and walking across the dirt pitch to the handwashing facility, Ahmed proudly showed us and his 70 classmates how he washes his hands with soap. Mr. Bello used the opportunity to give the children an important lesson.

“Share your knowledge and experience with other children,” he said. “Share with your parents and be an ambassador for behaviour change.”

 


 

 

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