|Students at the Alkena Primary School in Papua New Guinea take part in Global Handwashing Day activities.|
By Nicole Harvey
WESTERN HIGHLANDS PROVINCE, Papua New Guinea, 20 October 2009 – In celebration of Global Handwashing Day, students in four provinces across Papua New Guinea took to the stage to raise their voices and educate their peers.
The students sang and acted out dramas to illustrate the importance of handwashing with soap before eating, after using the toilet, and after changing diapers. This simple message can also be a life saving one, as proper handwashing can prevent diarrhoea and other potentially fatal diseases.
Students become the teachers
At the Tambul Primary School, the students voices rang out clear and true through the persistent drizzle as they sang a song that they had written themselves:
So let’s wash our hands!
If we wash our hands,
we’ll be free from diarrhoea,
cholera, typhoid, dysentery…
Then our lives will be safe because we wash our hands!
At Alkena Primary School, Headmaster Abel Wama looked on proudly as students from Grades six to eight performed three dramas for the younger students. Through playing the roles of mothers, fathers, teachers, community leaders and health workers, the students expressed how handwashing and hygiene is everyone’s responsibility, and how important it is to make sure that the message of Global Handwashing Day reaches all members of the community.
Later in the day, Yano Primary School students travelled to Tambul Primary school to take part in a handwashing-themed debate. The global availability of clean water and the threat of disease from failing to properly wash hands were discussed by both teams, and students in the audience were allowed to participate by asking questions.
Supporting handwashing efforts in schools
In all, over 25,000 students were involved in Global Handwashing Day activities in the Western Highlands, Eastern Highlands, Central and Morobe provinces.
Stressing the importance of handwashing is critical for improving public health in Papua New Guinea. Diarrhoea alone is responsible for killing more children than measles, malaria and AIDS combined. A recent outbreak of cholera and dysentery has further underscored the importance of teaching proper handwashing in the country’s schools.
To that end, UNICEF has donated buckets, soaps and handtowels to schools to ensure that students always have the resources to wash their hands properly. UNICEF also supports over ten Child-Friendly Schools in the country’s Western Highlands District, three of which are Tambul Primary School, Yano Primary School and Alkena Primary School.
In addition, the National Department of Education, the National Department of Health and UNICEF are working hard to ensure that schools are fitted with proper sanitation equipment.