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Child Cabinets take responsibility for handwashing

© UNICEF/ 2008
Children of Lahoal Primary school rally to educate their community

Assam, 16 October 2008: From tea gardens to islands to slums to shelter homes, 200,000 children across Assam joined to celebrate the Global Handwashing Day.   

They pledged, they practiced, they promoted hand washing with soap, and with an enthusiasm which was infectious. 

“There may be millions of germs on our hands but if millions of children join hands -- to wash hands -- we can get rid of them forever,” said Nitumoni, a third grader from Kokjhar Primary School, Kamrup district, Assam, where the state launch of Global Handwashing campaign took place on October 16. “I am the health minister in our child cabinet, I have to see if all students are following the rules of health and hygiene,” she explained.

In Dibrugarh district, children of Lahoal Primary School, released balloons carrying handwashing messages. The child cabinet presented its action plan to the MLA & Parliamentary Secretary, Family Welfare and Health, Mrs. Jibon Tara Ghatowar. The day started with a prayer which included the handwashing jingle adapted in Assamese. This will be sung daily in the school, informed a teacher. 700 children from the primary and upper primary school led by Education Commissioner, Mr. Biren Dutta, IAS, pledged together to wash hands before eating and after using the toilet.    

In Dibrugarh district, children of Lahoal Primary School, released balloons carrying handwashing messages. The child cabinet presented its action plan to the MLA & Parliamentary Secretary, Family Welfare and Health, Mrs. Jibon Tara Ghatowar. The plan set aside  ‘Mondays for school cleaning, Tuesdays for checking hands, nails, teeth, eyes, ears, Wednesday for sweeping, Thursdays for office cleaning, Fridays for toilets and Saturdays for desks and benches’. The Parliamentary Secretary was happy with the concept of child cabinets and urged the Village Health and Sanitation Committees to utilize the funds allocated for hygiene and sanitation.   

Ten kilometers away at Modarkhat Tea Estate Primary school, children hopped on to a poster-bedecked tractor-trailer to take the handwashing message to their mothers and other community members plucking tea leaves in nearby gardens. The rally was joined by teachers, village committee members, NGOs, government and UNICEF officers.

Reaching the Hard to Reach Children

Tucked away on Harlua Balua, a small island in the mighty Brahmaputra river, 21 children keenly watched a handwashing demonstration at their school. NGO workers traveled three hours by boat to reach them. UNICEF has partnered with the Government of Assam and local NGOs to support health and education initiatives in twelve chaporis (islands). Cut off from the mainland, children on these islands have poor access to basic services and are extremely vulnerable to disease.

© UNICEF/ 2008
Children washing hands at a tea estate school

The situation of working children in urban slums of Guwahati is much the same. But, fortunately, the handwashing campaign reached out to them as well, together with around 800 children in state and NGO-run children’s institutions and shelter homes.

At 66 per 1,000 live births, Assam has the fourth highest Infant Mortality Rate in India. Although 73 percent of households in Assam have toilets, only 30 per cent of them are sanitary.

Children reach out to community

The girls in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Dibrugarh, a government-run residential school for girls from disadvantaged families, held a rally, which culminated in a public meeting with hand washing demonstration and pledge-signing by the community members.    
 
Several members of the Adolescent Girls clubs in 352 villages in Dibrugarh, fanned out to nearby schools to support handwashing activities. They plan to dedicate one of their monthly meetings to hygiene and sanitation issues. Many girls drop out of school as there no toilets. Less than a third of government primary schools in Assam have toilets and a minuscule 6.4 percent of these have a separate toilet for girls.  

Joining hands for a sanitation movement
      
We need to make sanitation a people’s movement in Assam, said UNICEF’s State Representative, Assam, Jeroo Master. At 66 per 1,000 live births, Assam has the fourth highest Infant Mortality Rate in India. Although 73 percent of households in Assam have toilets, only 30 per cent of them are sanitary.  

The handwashing campaign, jointly organized by Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) and Sarba Shiksha Abhijan (SSA), Government of Assam, with UNICEF support, has brought together local NGOs, civil society, celebrities and media in active partnership to address hygiene and sanitation issues in the state. The challenge is to keep the momentum on.

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