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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF and partners educate Haitian children on how to prevent cholera

By Gabrielle Menezes

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 18 March 2011 – In the crowded classrooms of Institute Mixte de Kervens School in Canape Verde, Port-au-Prince, children are learning critical skills in the fight against cholera.

VIDEO: 20 February 2011 - UNICEF's Gabrielle Menezes reports on the organization's efforts to prevent the spread of cholera in Haiti by engaging children.  Watch in RealPlayer


The classroom windows look out on to hillsides dotted with white tarpaulin tents in the Haitian capital. These are the temporary homes of tens of thousands of people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

And it is here that the ever-present threat of cholera persists. The deadly menace has so far killed more than 4,500 people across the country.

Although for the moment the level of cholera infections and deaths has lowered, it is still a danger that could become even worse,” says Amara Kone, who heads UNICEF’s sanitation training programme in schools.

“But if cholera disease levels have decreased, it’s partially because we’ve been teaching people, such as children, that to prevent infection people need to wash their hands and drink safe water.”

Engaging children

Young students in schools such as Institute Mixte de Kervens are being taught skills not only as a means to protect themselves, but also as a way to spread the message to their families.

© UNICEF Video
Farah Sylvestre from GOAL, a non-profit organization and UNICEF partner, talks to students about the dangers of cholera and how to prevent infection in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Hygiene Promoter Farah Sylvestre, a student nurse working for the non-profit organization GOAL, is mobilizing students at schools to better understand how cholera spreads, and showing how they and their families can prevent infection. GOAL – which is carrying out mobilization activities in 38 camps and communities – is one of around 30 UNICEF partners helping educate Haitians about preventive measures they can take to protect themselves against cholera.

At Institute Mixte de Kervens School, Sylvestre engages the children in simple lessons that demonstrate how they should wash their hands with soap to kill cholera bacteria.

She also shows the children how to create a basic fluid consisting of water, salt, and sugar that can be used as an effective treatment for diarrhoea-related dehydration caused by the infection.

“It’s important that children understand how to protect themselves,” says Ms. Sylvestre. “These children are a vehicle for carrying the cholera prevention message to adults – a means for bringing about a positive change in the behaviour of older people.”

Chain of knowledge

Rhodia, 11, a student at the school, is part of this wave of change, and is following through on making sure her father knows about cholera prevention.

© UNICEF Video
Students at the Institute Mixte de Kervens School are taught how to prevent cholera spreading by non-governmental organization GOAL in Canapé Vert, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

After school, Rhodia arrives back to her home, which has been newly rebuilt following the earthquake. The first thing she does is sit down and tell her father about the training she has just received.

“Papa, here is what we learnt at school,” she says. “We need to throw out faeces and make sure that flies don’t come and sit on them. Flies carry disease and can sit on the food that we eat, and because of this we can get cholera.”

Rhodia’s father insists that she come to the kitchen and show him the correct way to wash her hands. She demonstrates, using soap and water from a bucket.

Even though her father is a plumber, like most households in Haiti, their house doesn’t have any running water. An inability to access proper sanitation and safe water increases people’s vulnerability to diseases such as cholera.

This year, UNICEF is increasing efforts to support sustainable, long-term ways to ensure people have access to water, including repairing and expanding piped networks.

With increased capability and more knowledge about basic hygiene, future generations and the families of students such as Rhodia will be better equipped to address cholera outbreaks and other life-threatening diseases.



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