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At a glance: Indonesia

Aceh ‘superhero’ helps tsunami-affected children keep clean and healthy

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Estey
Fajar Kurniawan,10, is a peer educator. He helps to show his friends how to wash their hands using soap and water.

By Steve Nettleton

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, December 2007 – Cloaked in shrouds and face paint, and wearing helmets adorned with plastic orbs, two dark figures startle an audience of primary school students, causing young girls in the front row to cower in fear.

They seem more like characters from a Star Wars audition, but they are in fact portraying E. coli bacteria, on the prowl for a new victim: a student who didn’t wash his or her hands carefully.

The actors are playing out an educational drama meant to illustrate the importance of good hygiene. In the performance, the students are eventually spared with the help of an Acehnese superhero who summons friendly germs to fight off the E. coli and save the day.

Teaching better hygiene
The drama is part of a UNICEF-supported project, implemented by its partner International Relief and Development, to teach better hygiene and sanitation practices in schools across Aceh. Children also learn about hygiene through specially designed board games and puzzles.

The programme is named WASH, for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. It has been implemented in 154 schools across the province, including at Neusok Teubaluy, near Banda Aceh.

This school was severely damaged by the powerful earthquake that triggered the deadly tsunami of December 2004. It was rebuilt by UNICEF – one of 106 Aceh schools now equipped with child-friendly water and sanitation facilities, benefiting an estimated 22,000 children.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Estey
Children in Banda Aceh drying their hands after watching a play about the importance of hygiene.

‘A dramatic change’
“We’ve seen a dramatic change with this programme,” says Najmuddin, the Headmaster of Neusok Teubaluy Primary School. “Now children pay more attention to their hygiene and they like to practice with each other, and share their knowledge with each other.”
Students at Neusok Teubaluy are taught to wash their hands before and after playtime, and to brush their teeth. The school has 10 peer educators, including 10-year-old Fajar Kurniawan, who try to make sure their classmates understand the importance of good hygiene practices.

“It’s my duty to maintain cleanliness, not to mess up the place, and to inform my friends about keeping clean,” says Fajar.

By promoting better hygiene in the classroom, UNICEF hopes children can serve as role models for improving sanitation practices in their communities at large, a key contribution in the wider effort to rebuild a healthier Aceh.




December 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on how children in Banda Aceh are being educated to help fight disease.
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