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Sanitation and hygiene education helps fight disease

© UNICEF/ South Sudan/2012/Li
Students attend Airport View Primary School in Torit, South Sudan. The school has clean water, toilet facilities and a sanitation club.

By Kun Li

TORIT, South Sudan, 27 April 2012 – After sweeping the yard, washing up the latrine, and taking out the garbage, 12-year-old Klementina Arakajilo joined the rest of her family for a break. As they chatted, Klementina shared important messages about hygiene and health.

“Mama, you have to cut your nails, otherwise they will get long and become dirty,” said the soft-spoken girl. “After you go to the latrine you need to wash your hands with soap. But that’s not enough. When food is brought, wash your hands with soap again. If you don’t, it will give you stomach problems and you will be sick.”

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on sanitation and hygiene education in South Sudan schools. Watch in RealPlayer

These are lessons Klementina has learned in her school’s sanitation club, an organization that empowers children to be ‘agents of change’, promoting positive – even life-saving – health practices in their families and communities.

Protecting children from disease

Klementina’s school, Airport View Primary School in Torit, Eastern Equatoria State, was created a few years ago, after the signing of a peace agreement to end the Sudanese civil war, when families started returning from neighbouring countries.

© UNICEF/ South Sudan/2012/Li
Klementina Arakajilo, 12, at home with her family in Torit, South Sudan. She is a member of her school's sanitation club.

Most of the school’s classes are conducted in a dusty bamboo enclosure. But in spite of its limited resources, teachers and parents have made sure that the school has clean water and separate toilet facilities for boys and girls.

And the school’s sanitation club ensures students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves from disease. The club offers activities including drama, public debate, and singing, all of which prepare students to spread hygiene and sanitation messages around their communities.

These messages are crucial in South Sudan, which has some of the lowest water and sanitation indicators in the world. According to national data, 65 percent of the population has to walk more than a kilometer to access drinking water, and nearly 90 percent don’t have access to adequate sanitation.

“South Sudan is a country where waterborne diseases are all too common, as a result of poor water, sanitation and hygiene environment,” said Bismarck Swangin, UNICEF Communication Officer in South Sudan. “For schools where children come together, it is particularly important that water is made available, together with hand-washing facilities and soap. Coupled with correct hygiene practices, they will help children become agents of change to bring good hygiene messages to their friends and families.”

Immense needs remain

UNICEF is working with partners and the government to ensuring that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services and hygiene education are available in schools. Sanitation clubs like the one in Airport View Primary have been established and supported in over 76 schools since 2010.

But the needs remain immense.

“We have over 1,500 students in the school, and these latrines are not enough for them,” said Headmaster Odera Charles Opoka. “We have people coming back from the north, from Uganda, from other parts of the world to their homeland, and their children need to go to school. But we don’t have the funds to build more classrooms and employ more teachers.”

“We need other latrines in our school, and also rubbish bins, boreholes, and more buildings,” said 15-year-old Manuela Morko Koktto, a member of the sanitation club.

And these needs reflect the broader needs of the entire community. “I wish that we had a latrine at home,” said 12-year-old Jane Issac, another sanitation club member, “so that I don’t have to go to my auntie’s house every time I need to use one.”

In the coming years, UNICEF will continue to support WASH in schools through sanitation clubs and through the construction of latrines and hand-washing facilities in schools where these facilities are absent.  UNICEF is also helping schools with these services to be self-sustaining. 

As for Klementina, she understands that the opportunity to go to school cannot be taken for granted – and neither can the opportunity to learn and promote hygiene messages that will keep her and her family safe.

 

 
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