The little things that made a difference in children’s lives
Accessible and safe water sources, in addition to proper hygiene education, is a key aspect of creating a society that is both happy and healthy for children.
It’s 8:30 in the morning when the school bell rings. Students exit the classrooms in groups, holding bars of soap, and head straight to the two large, blue and red water jars sitting in front of their classrooms.
This is where students at Ork Yom Primary School wash their hands during recess; ’At our school, we use the school bell to remind students to wash their hands during the break. When the bell rings, they know it’s time for group hand washing,” said Ork Yom school director, Pov Samnang.
Group hand washing was not practised at Ork Yom until March 2019 when the school built these simple, low-cost group hand washing facilities utilising locally available resources. The impetus behind the construction of these facilities came from the school director, following a training seminar on the ‘Minimum Requirements for WASH in School’ guidelines, conducted in December 2018 by government counterparts with UNICEF’s support under Primark funding.
The minimum requirements established through this program is a school-led, three-star approach where schools continuously develop their school WASH services, using locally available resources. Since December 2018, with Primark funding and in partnership with the Department of School Health of Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, UNICEF has hosted training sessions for 286 school directors in provinces which have received a Star ranking of 0 or 1. This training introduces school directors to the steps needed at the school level to improve their WASH status at school and receive a higher Star rating.
At Ork Yom, building group hand-washing facilities were not the only improvement made following the training. The school has also started providing safe drinking water to students during school hours. A 20-litre bottle of safe drinking water has been installed in each classroom to facilitate this.
Thanks to the newly installed 20-litre water bottles, students at Ork Yom no longer have to worry about running out of water brought from home. Soun Seav Ma, a 5th-grade girl, says, "There were times when I ran out of water brought from home and asked my friends for their water, but they also ran out of it. So, I had to wait until I got home to drink water.”
"Now I have no more worries. I can play and sweat as much as I can because I can refill my bottle with water anytime at school”, added Seav Ma excitedly.
Privacy and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) at school are critically important, especially for girls. Yet, this crucial area has not received a significant amount of attention in the past. Director Samnang also admitted that he knew about both privacy and MHM for female students but often forgot to act on it.
“The training has reminded me how important it is and the simple steps I can take to make it happen at my school,” said Director Samnang.
The ‘Minimum Requirement for WASH in School’ guidelines, endorsed in 2016 by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, has emphasised the separation of latrines for boys and girls. Schools with no gendered separation of latrines receive a Star 0 ranking, not only on the sanitation component - ‘Latrines and Urinals’ - but also on the overall Star 0 ranking as well.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is also highlighted in the Star 3 level, encouraging schools to have sanitary pads available and waste bins inside the girl’s toilets to help them to safely manage their menstrual hygiene.
After the training, Director Samnang installed a sign designating gender on the school’s latrines, placed a pack of sanitary pads inside the girl’s room, along with a waste bin to allow for the proper disposal of sanitary products. This all worked towards helping girls properly manage their menstruation at school.
A group of 5th-grade students proudly announced, "We like the separated latrines. We were shy when using the same toilet as the boys.”
The little things Ork Yom has made following the training session have made a big difference in the lives of their students, especially those girls who now have increased privacy and dignity in managing their menstruation. By using simple, low-cost and locally available resources, Ork Yom has not only increased from Star 1 to Star 2 ranking but has also provided a hygienic environment for students to learn and play, enabling them to thrive and reach their full potential.