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Life-saving hygiene programme for students in rural Tajikistan

© UNICEF Tajikistan/2007/ Ayisi
Young peer educators give a presentation about water, sanitation and hygiene at a rural school in Tajikistan.

UNICEF’s yearly flagship report, 'The State of the World’s Children', launched 22 January 2008, makes a call to unite for child survival. Here is one in a series of related stories.

ISFARA, Tajikistan, 10 March 2008 – School 57 is located in Tajikistan’s Aerport Mahalla village, which is home to approximately 400 families. Since 2002, this high school has been the site of a UNICEF-supported water, sanitation and hygiene programme that has transformed how the local community views vital health issues.

The school’s programme has played a key local role in reducing water-borne diseases. It promotes better health and hygiene through a child-friendly curriculum that focuses on life skills, community service activities and peer education.

The students focus on a different topic for each day of the week, covering issues such as safe handling of drinking water, disposal of solid waste, home sanitation and personal hygiene.

Student volunteers

Students at the school volunteer to be in one of seven groups that conduct school assemblies on their chosen topic. The students post ‘tips of the week’ and update the information on illustrated hygiene boards in the school corridors. Students also create short, health-related performance pieces in the form of songs, puppet shows or poems for the school community.

The Amakova sisters – Tahmina, 20, Parveena, 18, and Madina, 14 – have all been student volunteers at School 57. They live with their parents in a house without indoor plumbing, which is a common situation in Tajikistan’s rural areas, where less than half the population has access to improved drinking water and sanitation facilities.

“We let the community know our findings so that they can prevent infectious diseases and be healthier,” says Madina, showing how the school and community work side-by-side on issues of health and sanitation.

Tahmina was acting as a young volunteer when the school initiated the weekly monitoring of the village’s drinking water using special ‘H2S’ strips to test for bacterial contamination. She recalls that the community was surprised at the results of these tests.

“We found poor quality water not only in the canals and ariks [small channels], which is usual, but also in some of the wells, which people considered safe water sources,” she says. “We now boil water and know this is rule number one to avoid falling ill.”

Unexpected rewards

Water, hygiene and sanitation programmes are helping to reduce the spread of water-borne diseases in Tajikistan. This, in turn, can contribute to lowering infant mortality rates, which decreased from 75 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 56 per 1000 live births in 2006.

However, the programme at School 57 has also reaped an unexpected reward – it has encouraged girls to participate in all activities.

This is particularly inspiring in the context of rural Tajikistan, where attitudes towards girls’ education have not always been favourable.

Supporting more programmes

Water and sanitation programmes are being gradually scaled up across the country, with local non-governmental organizations training more teachers to conduct weekly hygiene lessons for their pupils.

Today, UNICEF supports 360 school-based water, sanitation and hygiene programmes across the country and is also supporting initiatives to construct separate, sanitary latrines for boys and girls in the majority of these schools.
“The pupils are the key to the success of the programme,” explains former UNICEF Tajikistan Project Officer for Water and Sanitation Ikram Davronov. “It is the pupils who will educate their peers, their parents and other community members. Children are more receptive to new ideas and more prepared to change their habits.”



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