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Children Advocate for Better Sanitation in Earthquake-Affected Pakistan

© UNICEF/PAKA/003/Sandra Bisin
9 year-old Sanam at Said Bata Government Girls Primary School

By Sandra Bisin

Pakistan-administered Kashmir  –  “I wash my hands before and after eating. I also cut my nails every week and I brush my teeth every day. These things I’ve learnt from school and I teach my friends and my family to do the same”, beams Sanam, a 9 year-old student at the Government Girls’ Primary School Said Bata in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. “Today, we’ve learnt how to use the latrines properly and also how to cover up food so it doesn’t get dirty and flies do not spoil it as they carry diseases”, says another student. 

This school, which is a one hour drive from the capital city Muzaffarabad, is only accessible by hiking 30 minutes along mountainous mule trails. The school was severely damaged by the 8 October 2005 earthquake and is now the site of one of the first transitional shelters that UNICEF has built in one of the most remote earthquake-affected locations.

“Today, we’ve learnt how to use the latrines properly and also how to cover up food so it doesn’t get dirty and flies do not spoil it as they carry diseases”, says a student.  Two years after the disaster, which killed over 73,000 people, and as the situation is gradually returning to normal, poor sanitation and hygiene are still a threat to children’s right to education as well as health. Children are prone to miss class because of water-borne and sanitation-related illnesses such as diarrhoea.

In May 2006, UNICEF teamed up with Education authorities in the North West Frontier Province, in the north of Pakistan, and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to launch a teacher training program on school sanitation and child to child hygiene promotion in areas affected by the earthquake. So far, over 4,000 teachers have been trained. UNICEF has moved from emergency assistance to recovery and reconstruction by trying innovative approaches in hygiene promotion. The child to child approach spans across six earthquake-affected districts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. The approach uses children to teach their peers about good hygiene practices.

“I did a two-day training on hygiene promotion last November (2006)”, says Musarrat Awan, the 25 year-old teacher at Said Bata school. “I was trained on hygiene and health, use of latrines, hand-washing, how to keep the food safe by cleaning and boiling it, how to keep the environment clean. When I returned to school, I taught all these topics to children and encouraged them to sensitize their friends, siblings and parents by taking their knowledge home with them.”

“Our ultimate objective is that all teachers in earthquake-affected areas be trained on child to child hygiene promotion by the end of 2008”, explains Victor Kinyanjui, Water, Environment and Sanitation specialist at the UNICEF office in Muzaffarabad. “With the child to child approach we use children as entry points to communities. We insist on three key messages: use latrines, wash your hands after using latrines and wash your hands before eating.”

© UNICEF/PAKA/04/Sandra Bisin
Government Girls’ Primary School Said Bata

In addition to the training of teachers, UNICEF has distributed one hygiene resource kit in each school. Each kit is composed of child to child manuals for teachers, exercise books, posters and flip cards on issues such as hand washing, proper use of latrines and safe handling of water. All materials are in the Urdu language. 

“Behavior change is a long process”, stresses Andrew Parker, a UNICEF Water, Environment and Sanitation officer for the Emergency Programme. “Through this approach our aim is that girls and boys be equally supported to become active role models and advocates of good hygienic practices”.
UNICEF is also distributing individual student hygiene kits in earthquake-affected areas. Each kit contains tooth paste and a tooth brush, a nail cutter, soap, a towel and a comb. School Environmental Committees are also being formed: composed of students, their main purpose is to look at keeping the latrines clean, preserving the environment and organizing rotating teams to clean schools.

“Behavior change is a long process”, stresses Andrew Parker, a UNICEF Water, Environment and Sanitation officer for the Emergency Programme. “Through this approach our aim is that girls and boys be equally supported to become active role models and advocates of good hygienic practices”.
 
By December 2008, UNICEF is planning to spread hygiene messages to 274,000 children through child to child communication. In January 2007, a Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) survey was conducted in selected schools in areas affected by the earthquake. UNICEF is now using the data produced to design new approaches to communities for hygiene promotion.

UNICEF’s major donor for Water, Environment and Sanitation activities in earthquake-affected areas in Pakistan are Spain and the Netherlands.

 

 

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