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Egyptian children take the lead in improving hygiene practices

© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1602/Giacomo Pirozzi/Egypt/2005
A girl washes her hands at a row of taps at the UNICEF-supported Alexan Community School in the village of Manfalout in the Assiut Governorate in Upper Egypt.

By Eva Dadrian

SOHAG GOVERNORATE, Egypt, 3 Nov 2008 – Egyptian schoolchildren celebrated the first-ever Global Handwashing Day on 15 October. As part of the International Year of Sanitation, this worldwide annual observance is designed to raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap.

The handwashing day initiative was launched as part of the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE) project, which is supported by UNICEF, the provincial authorities, the Egyptian Ministry of Education, USAID and the Water Authority.

The SSHE project engages teachers, parent’s associations and children in 159 primary schools in the three districts of Sohag Governorate – Dar El Salam, Geheina and Sakolta.

Children inspire parents

At Al Jihad Al Guedida Primary School, in the village of Medinat Geheina, teachers, parents and students worked for a month to prepare for the Global Handwashing Day celebration. The walls of the school are now covered with posters and drawings made by the children.

The children also wrote and performed poems, verses and songs about the benefits of handwashing with soap. A group of young boys took the stage to perform a five-minute play they had written, with help from their teachers, about the importance of personal hygiene and the environment.

In Upper Egypt, children have become true agents of change. By talking to their parents about simple behavioral changes, such as washing hands with soap before and after eating or after using the toilet, these schoolchildren are spreading awareness about good hygiene. Inspired by their children, parents are changing their behaviours.

Amal Ibrahim Tewfick, a mother of two, admits to having learned about improved hygiene from her daughters. “When they come home from school, they tell me about all these new ideas they have learned from their teachers, and I am very happy because I am learning, too. They look healthier and happier, and I don’t have to take them to the doctor as often as I used to,” said Ms. Tewfick.

In this way, parents are also learning that the simple act of washing hands with soap helps to protect them from diarrhoeal diseases, infections and even death.

Giving a voice to young people

Hayam Abdel Radi Ahmed, the Monitoring Officer at the Sohag Education Directorate Office, believes that education must be engaging, motivational and interactive, and that children should attend school not only to receive a degree,  but also to become responsible and active members of their communities.

“When these children practice, in their homes, the basic principles of personal hygiene that they have learned at school, they are spreading the message around. And sooner or later, the other members of their family will do the same,” Ms. Ahmed explained.

In rural Egypt, where children are traditionally seen rather than heard, this campaign has given a voice to young people.



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