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At a glance: Guinea-Bissau

In Guinea-Bissau, teenagers sing the praises of handwashing

© UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2016
Lizidória Mendes (left) and Venâncio Cá (right), proudly showing their prizes. Their songs were chosen as the winners of a Global Handwashing Day song writing contest, organized by UNICEF.

by Wilson Miguel da Gama

In Guinea-Bissau, a nationwide effort is underway to promote handwashing as a way to reduce the spread of diseases. Teenagers are getting involved by writing songs and rap music about the importance of washing your hands with soap.

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau, 15 December 2016 – For any aspiring musician, hearing your song on the radio is a major milestone. This year, 19-year-olds Lizidória Mendes and Venâncio Cá got to experience this dream come true when their songs “Laba Mon” (wash your hands) and "Iagu ku sabon" (water with soap) were chosen as the winners of a Global Handwashing Day song writing contest, organized by UNICEF.

Lizidória and Venâncio developed the lyrics and rap music to support the global effort to raise awareness about the importance of handwashing with soap to prevent illness and disease. Their songs were used in radio spots prior to Global Handwashing Day, and have since become so popular that they are now played on radio stations across Guinea-Bissau.

“We have written these songs to sensitize everyone, especially the children and youth of Guinea-Bissau, on how the simple act of handwashing with soap or ashes [a traditional way to handwash when soap is not available] can save lives,” said Lizidória, who coordinates the health department of the National Children’s Parliament, and whose dream is to become a singer.

© UNICEF Video
Watch Venâncio (Venas KM) and Tulay rap and sing about why you should wash your hands with soap. "Iagu ku sabon" means water with soap in Guinea-Bissau creole.


Songs for sanitation

Guinea-Bissau has made large strides in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector since 2000. The Government of Guinea-Bissau is party to a number of global commitments to improve WASH,  and has pledged to dedicate funding for sanitation. However, the overall governance of the WASH sector has suffered from political instability and recurrent change of government in the country, resulting in reduced investment in WASH both from the Government as well as international donors. 

To help raise awareness on the issue of hygiene and sanitation, UNICEF organized a campaign to promote handwashing.

“Handwashing is one of the absolutely most important and simple acts anyone can do to reduce transmission of diseases, not only diarrhoea but also infectious diseases such as flu,” said Fredrik Asplund, UNICEF Guinea-Bissau Chief Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).
As the focus of this year’s campaign was on youth and music, a song competition with the theme “Make handwashing a habit” was a natural fit.

“Guinea-Bissau is a country closely connected with music and it is also a country with predominantly young people. The music competition winners really have an incredible talent not only in singing but also communicating to their peers. The focus of the campaign this year was to demonstrate the chain of transmission and how everyone should assume responsibility for their own sanitary behaviour,” added Mr. Asplund.

Lizidória and Venâncio were among several teenagers who participated and attended the official ceremony for Global Handwashing Day, organized by the Government and UNICEF at Kwame N’Kruma high school in the capital city Bissau on 14 October. The jury for the song writing contest comprised three famous rappers from Guinea-Bissau, who also performed during the ceremony.

© UNICEF Video
Watch Lizidória (Lizi Zaziwe), Annas Queita and UNICEF National Ambassador Tchuma Bari sing about why it's important for you to wash your hands with soap. "Laba mon" means wash your hands in Guinea-Bissau creole.


Building lifelong habits

Using the occasion of the Global Handwashing celebrations, the Government and UNICEF produced community radio spots and posters to disseminate key messages throughout the country.

In the capital of Bissau, UNICEF organized a roadshow throughout the day, playing various songs about handwashing including “Laba Mon" and "Iagu ku Sabon”. The road show included a truck with loudspeakers and activists playing music and raising awareness on the importance of regularly handwashing with soap. It travelled through several neighbourhoods of the capital city. In addition, a national theatre group “Netos de Bandim” performed a short drama linking hygiene to the simple but common act of shaking hands.

“We have focused our advocacy today on children and youth because they have the necessary strength and dynamic to promote behavior change,” said UNICEF Guinea-Bissau Deputy Representative, Cristina Brugiolo. “If handwashing becomes a habit for the whole population of Guinea-Bissau, this will lead to significant improvements for child health. Young people can help us achieve this goal.”

At the end of the commemoration, representatives of the Government of Guinea-Bissau made a recommendation to include topics related to water, hygiene and sanitation in the national school curriculum. The goal is to enhance further knowledge and instil the lifelong habit of handwashing among children and young people.

UNICEF continues to deliver on its commitment to ensure equitable access to water and sanitation and employs multiple strategies to achieve its goal. More concretely, UNICEF supports WASH in schools and health centres, also reinforcing the link with nutrition; and engages in communication for development activities, using results-based alternative messaging, especially for sanitation marketing and handwashing.



UNICEF Photography: Water, sanitation and hygiene

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