Handwashing helps schools safely reopen across Indonesia

UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia are installing handwashing facilities and promoting hand hygiene in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adinda Silitonga
A student washes his hands
UNICEF/2021/Ihsan e
13 April 2021

Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to protect against COVID-19 infection. Yet not everyone knows how to do it properly.   

In March 2020, most schools in Indonesia closed their doors to control the spread of COVID-19. As they prepare to fully reopen during the pandemic, hand hygiene is more critical than ever to keep students and teachers safe when they return to the classroom. 

In East Lombok, the local government has received support from UNICEF to install several handwashing facilities in schools, including State Elementary School (SDN) 4 Rarang in Terara District.  

Sopi, a public health sanitarian at the Rarang community health centre, visited the school to educate teachers on proper handwashing and remind students to wash their hands. “I am very proud to do this work because it is important for the future generation of our country,” she said.  

Ramzul, an official at the East Lombok Health Office, also took part in the activity. Besides handwashing, his team also trained the teachers on how to disinfect classrooms and prepare hand sanitizer and disinfectant solution. “I hope that the teachers, principals and everyone else at the school will follow the health protocols when they are in the classroom and at home,” said Ramzul.  

An official with the East Lombok Health Office gives a presentation
East Lombok Health Office/2021
Ramzul, an official with the East Lombok Health Office, gives a presentation to teachers on how to disinfect classrooms and prepare hand sanitizer and disinfectant solution.

While schools in East Lombok are preparing to reopen after more than a year of remote learning, some schools in Aceh on the other side of the country have already resumed classroom-based learning. Many Islamic boarding schools in the province never closed and continued face-to-face learning throughout the pandemic. 

However, many have limited means to implement COVID-19 health protocols required by the government. As of December 2019, only 1 out of 10 schools in Aceh had access to proper water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. In response, the local government, supported by UNICEF and Yayasan Aceh Hijau, intervened in a number of Islamic boarding schools in Banda Aceh, South Aceh and Pidie Districts.  

One of these schools is Pesantren Al-Aziziyah in Banda Aceh, which has more than 400 students living and studying on campus. Before, the school did not have the water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to meet the needs of all students. 

A student washes her hands
UNICEF/2021/Ihsan e
A student washes her hands at a newly installed handwashing facility at her elementary school in Aceh.

"We are very happy with the support from UNICEF and Aceh Hijau, which has helped us to provide hand washing facilities during the pandemic,” said Tgk. Bulqaini, Head of Pesantren Al-Aziziyah. “We hope that in the future we can continue to work together to advance the school.” 

With the new hand washing facilities, students and teachers at Al-Aziziyah now feel that they have the means to fight COVID-19.  

"There are many students here and we must wash our hands all the time to prevent the spread of coronavirus," said Awaluddin, a 16-year-old student at Al-Aziziyah. 

While progress has been made since the beginning of the pandemic to make universal access to hand hygiene available to everyone, there is still much that needs to be done. However, across Indonesia individuals and organizations are working at the forefront to ensure that children can continue learning in a safe and healthy environment. 

UNICEF is grateful to key partners, including UK Government, for their support to keep the most vulnerable children healthy and protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.