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Namibia, 29 September 2017: Making handwashing with soap a habit at school

© UNICEF Namibia/2017/Mutseyekwa
Handwashing stations have been put up near all the toilets at this school. This makes routine handwashing after using the toilet more accessible to the learners.

By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa

OHANGWENA, Namibia, 29 September 2017 – As the school bell rings, learners from Onakatumbe Combined School in Namibia’s Ohangwena Region, hurry to class for the start of another day. Their first lesson is however not Mathematics, English or Social Science, but the recently introduced lesson on the development of the healthy and hygienic behaviour of handwashing with soap.

At the entrance of each of the classrooms, handwashing stations containing clean water that has been diluted with liquid handwashing soap, have become a permanent feature. It is at these points where learners learn a critical lesson about how to keep themselves safe from diseases by washing their hands with soap over running water.

This lesson does not end at the start of the day, but is repeated consistently after every visit to the toilet or before eating their mid-day snack.

“We encourage children to wash their hands as a first thing in the morning because we know that on their way to school, they touch a lot of dirty surfaces from where diseases can easily be caught,” says Martha Nakasole who is the school’s focal teacher for hygiene and sanitation.

The teachers at Onakatumbe School know that the introduction of new lessons and habits sometimes evokes fears and uncertainties. They have therefore learnt to be patient and creative about inculcating this habit among their learners.

As the children line up in a single file in front of the classroom, Nakasole explains why they should wash hands and also gives a thorough demonstration of the ideal technique to wash the hands properly.

A traditional nursery rhyme has been adapted to become a quasi “school anthem”. The recital of this rhyme helps to enhance a corporate school spirit towards handwashing. Children and teachers therefore start the week singing, “This is the way we wash our hand...”

© UNICEF Namibia/2017/Mutseyekwa
Focal teachers for hygiene and sanitation inspect the sanitation facilities at the school to ensure that good hygiene standards are maintained

Nakasole admits that an intensive promotion of handwashing is necessary as school children do not always take handwashing seriously and yet it is through the hands that they come in contact with disease causing germs. This emphasis on handwashing is therefore aimed at decreasing the spread of many common infectious diseases including diarrhoea, colds and flu which cause school absenteeism.

In Namibia, children bear the greatest brunt of diarrheal and respiratory diseases. According to the Ministry of health and Social Services, over 17% of children suffer from diarrhoea each year and around half of under-five child deaths is due to preventable and curable diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation. Little attention to handwashing as well as a high open defecation rate of 52 per cent across the country, mainly influence diarrhoea among the children.

This massive handwashing drive at Onakatumbe Combined School is part of a wider intervention by the school towards School Led Total Sanitation. Within four regions of Ohangwena, Kavango East, Kavango West and Zambezi, UNICEF is working with the ministry of education, Arts and Culture to improve sanitation and make basic amenities available for hygienic practices to be followed in schools.

The School Led Total sanitation program empowers schools to analyse their sanitation and hygiene situation, install handwashing stations and adopt good hygiene practices such as handwashing at critical times. Improving hygiene and sanitation at the school and also moulding learners to be champions in promoting good hygiene and sanitation at home is also an important component of the SLTS programme.

Washing hands with soap under running water, is therefore one of the simplest, yet powerful and economical part of the SLTS programme. This practice is therefore being vigorously promoted at 52 targeted schools in Ohangwena, Kavango East, Kavango West and Zambezi as the early steps towards an all-out sanitation drive at schools. At the target schools in the region different types of handwashing stations have been put up around the schools premises. These handwashing stations have been put up by the schools using the resources at their disposal.

“Hand washing with soap should be a life skill to be taken up by all children always,” says UNICEF Representative Rachel Odede. “It is important that we work with every child to nurture this positive habit so that they can pass it on to their families and to their own children in the future.”

While today the teachers are standing guard to monitor the behaviour, it is hoped that this habit will soon be adopted by all learners without any reminder.



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