UNICEF and Proctor & Gamble join hands to improve sanitation and hygiene conditions for school children in Viet Nam
by Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong
Dong Thap, May 2012 -- Covering her nose and mouth with her hand, the third grader Nguyen Kim Yen ran into the school toilet. Some of her friends were outside waiting for their turn; some had fabric masks prepared. “It’s stinking and dirty. It does not even have a door for privacy so we are reluctant to use the toilet. We only use it when we really have to. Normally I will try to wait until I get home,” said Yen.
Unhygienic and in poor condition, this small toilet was supposed to serve around 500 students in My Tho primary and lower secondary school of Dong Thap, a province in the Mekong Delta area of Viet Nam. Many of the students chose not to use the toilet either because it was dirty or lack of privacy. This situation is common for rural schools in Viet Nam where more than 70 per cent of schools have some sort of latrines but only 12 per cent of them have hygienic latrines that meet the Ministry of Health’s standards. Hygiene behaviours such as hand washing with soap are also rarely practised by students at school, and as little as 11.5 per cent of students wash their hands with soap after defecation.
Providing water and sanitation facilities for students
Now the students of My Tho school enjoy the new hygienic latrines supported by UNICEF and P&G.
The students of My Tho school no longer need to tolerate the unhygienic latrines. New water and sanitation facilities have been installed for the school with support from UNICEF and Procter & Gamble. The new facilities are hygienic and user-friendly. “I like the new toilet very much. It looks nice and it’s clean. It is quite big and it has separate cubicles for each person. This offers good privacy,” said Tran Thi Phung, a twelve-year-old girl. For nine-year-old boy Nguyen Tuan Kiet, the new toilet is fun as it has the ‘talking machine’ at the door that reminds students, each time they pass the door of the toilet, to flush and wash their hands with soap after using it. “I also like the hand washing areas where we can easily wash our hands with soap after using the toilet,” said Kiet.
UNICEF has worked with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Training to develop the standard designs and guidelines on operation and maintenance for water and sanitation facilities in kindergartens, primary and lower secondary schools. These standards will now be applied to all the schools in Viet Nam where the new sanitation facilities need to be set up. Teachers and students are also trained in operating and maintaining the newly constructed water and sanitation system.
Hygiene promotion at school
Students of My Tho school enthusiastically participate in the Hygiene and Sanitation Festival
Beside the initial training, the children of My Tho school also learn about sanitation and hygiene through a number of school activities, including the School Hygiene and Sanitation Festival. Through the entertainment activities such as singing, dancing, fashion shows, knowledge quizzes, drawing contests and hand washing competitions, children learn about sanitation, practise hygienic behaviors and create momentum for change in school and in the community. “Children are agents of change. They are the best educators within their homes and communities about the issue. We hope that the activities do not only help to change the sanitary practices of children, but also to encourage the community to adopt these practices,” said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative.
The way forward
With support from Procter & Gamble, thousands of children in 34 schools in the four provinces of Dong Thap. An Giang, Ninh Thuan and Dien Bien now have access to safe water and hygienic sanitation facilities as well as demonstrated improved awareness and behaviour on hygiene and sanitation.