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Schoolchildren in Tajikistan learn about hygiene and pass the lessons on

© UNICEF video
Since the launch of a UNICEF-supported hygiene promotion initiative in 350 Tajik schools, there has been a steep decline in the incidence of diarrhoea and other waterborne illnesses.

By Vladimir Lozinski

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No. 5: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focused on achieving the 2015 targets set by Millennium Development Goal 7 – to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

BOHTAR, Tajikistan, 27 September 2006 – The students click their fingers, stamp their feet and break out into a song with a rapper’s rhythm: “It is fresh water year. / We have some messages for you. / Boil the water you drink. / Cover your water container. / We have water running. / It runs through our village. / We should always keep it safe.”

In the ‘health corner’ of a primary school classroom in the rural town of Bohtar, Tajikistan, the walls are lined with school projects explaining safe hygiene practices. The projects have been created by students as part of a Hygiene Promotion Programme implemented in 350 schools with UNICEF’s support.

Since the hygiene education project began in 2003, there has been a steep decline in the incidence of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases here.

© UNICEF video
Sixty per cent of the water in Central Asia flows through Tajikistan, but people often use the same water for cleaning and drinking.

No access to safe water

In a brief play written and performed by the students, one boy drinks from a bucket of water. He buckles over with stomach cramps and is carried away to the ‘doctor’. The other students laugh but say that they have seen this happen in real life.

Just over than half the schools in Tajikistan have access to safe water, and thousands of children suffer from waterborne diseases.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and a brutal civil war, the country’s infrastructure – including its water supply system – sustained serious damage. It is still in need of repair. Despite a high literacy rate, many families are unaware that the water they take for granted has to be safe and that proper sanitation is a must, not a luxury.

Listening to young people

Teaching school-age children about healthy habits is effective because they are not just recipients of knowledge but can play a special role in transforming it into practice. Their teachers encourage students to take hygiene information home and pass it on to their family members.

“Tajikistan is a very traditional society,” says UNICEF Assistant Project Officer Zaitoonbibi Naimova. “A daughter-in-law cannot tell a mother to change her habits. But people listen to young children because they are not perceived as a threat to authority. So, in fact, the children are acting as peer trainers to their parents.”

Many schoolchildren are now well versed in basic personal hygiene and the dangers of unsafe water, and their increased awareness will have a real impact on changing the behaviour of adults.




8 September 2006:
UNICEF's Vladimir Lozinski reports on the drive to make hygiene education a fundamental aspect of primary education in Tajikistan.
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