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‘Friends of WASH’ bring hygiene-friendly schools to Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006
Since becoming a ‘Friend of WASH’, Joe’s school has been provided with hand pumps to bring clean water to the children.

By Misbah M. Sheikh

MANJAKANDRINA, Madagascar, 6 July 2006 – “Hello, my name is Joe. Welcome to our school,” says a beaming eight-year-old. Following the warm reception, he gives visitors a tour and proudly shows off his school’s new latrines.

“The toilets are very clean and pretty, don’t you think?” asks Joe. “And look, this is a water pump which will give us clean water to drink as well as to wash our hands. Our teacher told us that it is very important to wash our hands with soap to get rid of these microbes that can cause diarrhoea.

“Last time I had diarrhoea I was sick with a really bad stomachache and had to miss three days of school,” he adds.

Joe’s excitement about his school’s new toilets may seem unusual, but for him and his schoolmates here in Manjakandrina, a district not far from Madagascar’s capital, toilets in school are something of a novelty!

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006
Joe, 8, shows off his school’s new latrines, built with support from UNICEF.

Poor hygiene and absenteeism

“Two out of three children in this district were absent for significant periods of time last year due to diarrhoea,” says the director of the local NGO Miarintsoa, which works to promote hygiene education in this community. “But we have noticed that these rates have come down in schools where there are clean toilets and water facilities.”

Across the country, only a third of the population has access to safe water and only 3 in 100 households have sanitary facilities. Poor hygiene and lack of sanitation account for much of the illness among Madagascar’s children; according to a recent health survey, diarrhoea is the country’s second-ranking cause of child death, behind malaria and ahead of acute respiratory infections.

Beyond child mortality, illnesses caused by poor hygiene in Madagascar play a major role in school absenteeism. A UNICEF-supported study found that 3.5 million school days were lost in 2005 due to diarrhoea and other illnesses. And absenteeism contributes not only to high rates of grade repetition but also high drop-out rates – with nearly 6 in 10 children never finishing their primary school education.

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006
Along with his schoolmates, Joe washes his hands with soap and water.

‘WASH’ strategy promotes basics

To address the problem, UNICEF and the Government of Madagascar – along with several international and national partners, including Water Aid – have adapted a strategy to introduce hygiene education into the primary school curriculum. The strategy, known as ‘WASH’ (for water, sanitation and hygiene), promotes three basic messages:

  • How and when to wash hands
  • How to use latrines
  • How to store water

“Schools who become Amis de WASH, or ‘Friends of WASH’, are provided with separate latrines for girls and boys, hand-washing facilities and the means to start a vegetable garden,” explains UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Barbara Bentein. “First, WASH trainers hold sessions with teachers on the essentials of the strategy. Then these teachers pass on what they have learned to their students.”

Community participation

Since Joe’s school became a Friend of WASH, new latrines and water pumps have been installed. Items like soap, towels and buckets have been distributed as well.

The WASH strategy also encourages community participation, spreading messages of good hygiene among local residents and getting them actively involved in maintaining sanitary facilities.

UNICEF and its partners hope to cover 120 schools each year in expanding the WASH strategy across this island nation. It is an effort that could give more children like Joe their own latrines and clean water – and keep them healthy and productive in school.



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