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For children in Mali, hand-washing and safe water save lives

By Rachel Warden

SIRAKORO, Mali, 15 October 2012 - It is a bright, hot day in the tiny village of Sirakoro in Mali’s central Mopti region. Children, their parents, school staff and community leaders have met up with a team of UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialists, along with local partner NGO Association Recherche Action Femme et Développement (ARAFD).

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Rachel Warden reports on how hand-washing and safe water can save the lives of children in Mali.  Watch in RealPlayer


Over the course of this meeting, 13-year-old Bouba Diongo will say, “The teacher taught us that, when we come home, if we want to use the latrine, we should take clean water and soap. When we are finished, we should wash our hands.”

Critical message for Malians

UNICEF and partners have been working with schools throughout Mali to create clean environments where children learn to take on the responsibility of good hygiene. The initiative is known as WASH in Schools.

Such simple messages as the one Bouba has described are part of the programme – and are of critical importance in this region. The Sirakoro School and village lie in an area that is particularly vulnerable to cholera. In fact, there was recently an outbreak of cholera in the Gao region, north of Sirakoro.

Washing one’s hands hinders the spread of germs, including the ones that cause cholera.

According to UNICEF Mali WASH Specialist Jérémie Toubkiss, “This programme is a very good thing for this village, for this school and for the whole area, because the best way to prevent cholera is to promote a better water supply, sanitation and hygiene behaviours.”

© UNICEF/Mali 2012/Dicko
Bouba Diongo, 13, washes his hands. He has been taught good hygiene practices at Sirakoro School, Mopti Region, Mali, as part of the WASH in Schools programme.

Meeting takes stock of one year of WASH in Schools

UNICEF, ARAFD and members of the community have gathered under the shade in the Sirakoro schoolyard to discuss the school’s progress in WASH in Schools, which Sirakoro School joined less than a year ago. Participants can discuss successes of the programme, where UNICEF can provide more support, lessons learned.

Conversation turns to progress on the construction and maintenance of adequate facilities and supplies for the entire population – girls’ and boys’ latrines, a clean water source, hand-washing stations, soap. Also discussed is the adoption of good hygiene practices at school and in the community.

The UNICEF team checks the state of the latrines, the cleanliness of the courtyard and classrooms and the use of hygiene materials. They learn that there has been a problem with the water pump.

Another discussion is about the school’s hygiene club. Students have been very enthusiastic about the club. At meetings, they have lessons in hygiene and form teams to maintain the general cleanliness of the school. The students also bring these life-saving behaviours back home to their families and communities.

© UNICEF/Mali 2012/Dicko
UNICEF WASH Specialist Jérémie Toubkiss discusses WASH in Schools with community members at Sirakoro School, Mopti Region, Mali.

UNICEF and ARAFD, along with community leaders, take the opportunity of the gathering to stress to students and parents the immediate importance of vigilance in hygiene, in the wake of the recent outbreak of cholera in Gao.

Healthy children, healthy learners

In the case of Sirakoro, the WASH in Schools initiative has helped during an emergency. Preparedness in the face of a cholera outbreak is key to fighting the spread of the disease.

However, the ripple effect of the WASH in Schools initiative benefits children’s health and education in tandem. When children are healthy, their attendance goes up, and they are better able to learn. And, with access to the privacy of latrines, girls are less apt to drop out of school when they reach adolescence. 

The meeting at the Sirakoro School is one of many steps to building resilience and fulfilling children’s right to health and education. And it all begins with that basic rule of washing hands.



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