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Sierra Leone: “School-led total sanitation” approach improves good hygiene practices across communities

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2009/DeFerrari
Children at E.M. primary school singing sanitation promotion songs.  

Port Loko, Sierra Leone, 07 June 2009 - Practicing good hygiene is anything but a chore for the children of E.M Primary School in Laya, Port Loko district.  Fatmata, aged 12, proudly shares how much she enjoys being part of the School Health Club.

“We learn about good hygiene through games and sports, for example, the importance of washing hands with soap and using latrines. It’s a lot of fun but we also have a serious responsibility-we pass these messages on to our families and friends.”

The threat of infectious disease caused by poor sanitation meant that Diarrhoea in particular was rife in Laya. 

Through the dedication of School Health Club members and their teachers, the majority of families in the surrounding villages now have access to a latrine. 

The School Health Club, which meets twice per week, is supported by UNICEF and their local NGO partner who are also working to promote the construction and use of latrines in Port Loko. 

The "School-led total sanitation" approach
This approach has been called School-led Total Sanitation (SLTS) as it empowers children to be the agents of change within their community, encouraging families to construct latrines and end the practice of open defecation. 

Fatmata and her family have been one of the household’s that have taken action, as a result of the SLTS programme. 

Following the death of Fatmata’s father, life for her family has been tough.  With nine children to support, Fatmata’s mother had little money available to spend on perceived luxuries such as sanitation. 

Due to a lack of facilities, the entire family was thus required to practice open defecation in the surrounding bushes.  “I used to be so afraid of going to the toilet – especially because of the snakes” explains Fatmata. 

The introduction of SSHE to Laya encouraged Fatmata’s mother to take action.  Earlier this year with help from her neighbours, she began to construct a latrine using local materials.  The latrine is now complete and the family uses it on a daily basis. 

Improving communities awareness
UNICEF believes that working with school children is one of the most effective methods of promoting good hygiene and sanitation practices across communities. 

Only 30 per cent of Sierra Leoneans currently have access to improved sanitation; in rural areas this proportion is even lower (17 per cent). Just over 10 per cent of people have access to both clean drinking water and sanitation.

 

© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2008/Bamford
Fatmata outside her family’s latrine in Laya.        

Lack of sanitary facilities and poor hygiene is a factor contributing to Sierra Leone’s exceptionally high under-5 mortality rate (267 per 1,000 live births).  Communicable diseases such as diarrhoea mean many are forced to regularly miss school.

Disease also puts an additional strain on families living on limited finances, when they seek medical treatment.

UNICEF is additionally working with communities to improve water supply and ensure its effective treatment at the household level. 

It is hoped that SLTS, combined with other health and education interventions, will go some way towards ensuring that children such as Fatmata remain healthy and are able to continue their education.

It also ensures that good sanitation practices are passed around the community and on to future generations.

Fatmata appears to be happy with her family’s new latrine.  “I’m no longer afraid of going to the toilet” she laughs “It’s now better for my health and I know that those snakes won’t come and get me!”

By Emily Bamford

 

 
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