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Children take lead in pledging, practising and promoting handwashing

Girl signs pledge at State Global Handwashing Day launch in Assam

By Nipurnh Gupta

GUWAHATI, India, 30 October 2009 - The importance of doing things the right way - this was perhaps the one thing which children clearly understood this Global Handwashing Day in Assam. And they made sure everyone else did too, including their teachers, parents, local community, and even government officials and media persons.

So, when nine year old Rapita Das, read out The Handwashing Oath at the State GHD launch at Alenga LP School, and no one repeated it after her, Barsha Das, 8, decided it had to be re-done, the right way.

So, she read out `I’, and then waited for everyone to say, `I’, and then continued, `pledge’ and they all said, in unison, `pledge’ and so it went... to (to), wash (wash), our hands (our hands), with soap (with soap)… ,  The colourful handwashing pocket booklet developed specially for children by UNICEF, came in quite handy for the purpose. 

The entire school and its surroundings reverberated with the handwashing oath and the slogans, which followed, `Clean Hands, Strong Hands’; `Wash Hands, Stay Healthy’…

And it didn’t quite end with verbal commitments; the pledge was taken in writing. So every one, on the invitation of the child cabinet members, signed on the large `Pledge’ banners adorning the school walls.

Taking the lead were the Secretary, Public Health and Engineering Department, Mr Abhijit Dutta.and UNICEF Assam Chief, Jeroo Master, along with officials from Sarba Siksha Abhijan (SSA), Department of Social Welfare, District Administration and School Management Committees.  

Others followed suit -- children most enthusiastically --  and then proceeded to practise what they had pledged – wash hands with soap, with a lot of gusto,  before going on to have their Midday meal.      

Songs, skits and speeches. Processions,  posters and pledges. Drawings, displays and demonstrations. Schools and Anganwadi Centres. Towns and villages, Tea gardens and remote riverine islands. Children, parents, teachers, Government, civil society groups, NGOs, media and UNICEF. All joined in to make the Global Handwashing Day campaign in Assam a huge success.

Whether it was gathering of 1,700 at Bongaigaon, or a motley group of 30 students at a remote river island in Saikholi, Dibrugarh, the enthusiasm for handwashing was palpable. 

Volunteers travelled by boat to Majuli, the world’s largest river island, to demonstrate the five steps of handwashing to the 90 children and 20 villagers gathered at the Dholkhoa LP School. 

Village head, Rupai Hazarika was quite touched.  “This kind of initiative is the first time ever in our village,” he stated. Headmaster, Dinanath Dubey added, "Handwashing is very important for everyone, not just for children.”

Village head, Rupai Hazarika was quite touched.  “This kind of initiative is the first time ever in our village,” he stated. Headmaster, Dinanath Dubey added, "Handwashing is very important for everyone, not just for children.”

Popular Assamese singer Manas Robin, charged up the Jorhat celebrations, with his impromptu composition “haath dhuwa haath dhuwa, sabunere haath dhuwa; bemaar tumi aator kora” (wash your hand with soap and keep diseases at bay).
The Global Handwashing Day campaign reached some 6,000 schools and an equal number of Anganwadi centres across 11 districts of Assam.  The launch events were preceded by the orientation of state, district and block level functionaries and NGO partners. They will be following up with the schools for sustained hygiene behaviour.   

`Elementary, my dear Watson,’ was the constant refrain of Sherlock Holmes, but watsan, (as in Water Sanitation) considerations are not so `elementary’ so far as their application goes, especially in elementary schools.

Till 2006 only 29.4% of the government primary schools in Assam had toilets. The situation has since improved. Recent data from Watsan cell, SSA, reveals that 58 per cent of primary schools in the State now have toilets, and 13 per cent have separate toilets for boys and girls. 

Concerted efforts by the Government of Assam, with support from UNICEF, is contributing to an increase in sanitation coverage in the state.

Convergence between flagship programmes, the Total Sanitation Campaign and Sarba Siksha Abhijan, as also with the Integrated Child Development Scheme, to promote hygiene practices and toilet use in schools and anganwadi centres in the State, is a strategic area of UNICEF’s advocacy and support in Assam, informs Jeroo Master, Chief, UNICEF Assam.

Campaigns like Global Handwashing Day, help mobilize partnerships and commitments for the promotion of hygiene and sanitation, and provide the much needed impetus to reinforce key behaviours crucial for addressing the high mortality among children in the State.  



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