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Youth teach handwashing skills to keep their community healthy

by Julia Spry-Leverton

N’tjibougou, Mali, 9 August 2012 -12-year-old Youssouf Dissa sits close to his grandfather Adama, speaking urgently and using his hands to emphasize what he’s saying. Youssouf has come from school with important information to pass on to his family.

9 August 2012: Watch Youssouf Dissa explaining about the importance of good hygiene and health.  Watch in RealPlayer


His task is to convince his grandfather Adama that family members must use soap when they wash their hands before eating their evening meal. Youssouf learned this at N’tjibougou School and now he and the other students are sharing their knowledge, aiming to start a behavior change process throughout their community.

UNICEF works with schools throughout Mali to ensure that children have access to water, sanitation and hygiene, also known as “WASH”.  The aim is to foster good health while increasing student attendance.  Another great benefit is that students bring what they have learned back to their families and communities. UNICEF’s Wash in Schools programs are made possible by generous funding from Dubai Cares, The Spanish Committee for UNICEF and the Government of Navarra, The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Belgium National Committee of UNICEF and the Flemish Government of the Kingdom of Belgium as well as The Embassy of Denmark in Mali.

Youssouf’s school is part of the Dubai Cares Initiative in Mali, a WASH in Schools initiative which brings together five partner organizations, UNICEF, CARE, OXFAM, WaterAid and Save the Children, to improve water, sanitation and hygiene. The program aims to equip schools with water pumps, latrines, hand washing facilities and hygiene kits.  Hygiene promotion and behavioral change are key to ensuring that children get the full benefit from these facilities.

Hygiene homework

Showing what he wrote in his book during that day’s lesson, Youssouf repeats, “We get dirty from sweat and dust. We must regularly wash with clean water and soap.’’ Head Teacher Marcel Coulibaly explains that teachers are trained on these hygiene issues and messages about hand washing with soap are given daily in class.

© UNICEF Mali/2012/Dicko
Youssouf Disa, 12-years-old, washes his hands with soap before dinner with his family in Gongasso, Mali.

Youssouf, the eldest of six children, lives with his mother and siblings in his grandfather’s compound while his father is away working in the town. ‘’I’ve learned it’s important to drink clean water to avoid stomach ache and diarrhea,’’ he says, “and that you have to wash with soap every time before and after eating and after using the latrine. It’s a good thing to transmit this information.” He smiles as he refers to these conversations with his family as his “hygiene homework.”

Grandfather Adama marvels, “Before we did not realize what soap can do. Now we see people don’t suffer from diarrhea as much. Personally, I like that this knowledge has come to us through our children. We put them into school, so now we must respect what they are learning.’’

Putting lessons into practice

As the light fades, the evening meal is brought in bowls and gourds and placed on the ground. Adama is the first to lather his hands, using a ball of the green-grey soap made locally from vegetable oil and potash. Family members follow him, pouring water from a kettle to rinse their hands, then settling to eat in three groups: men, women and older children, women and toddlers.

© UNICEF Mali/2012/Dicko
Youssouf Dissa, 12-years-old, is a student in the fourth grade and participates in the student government of N’tjibougou School in Gongasso, Mali.

Elsewhere in the village similar scenarios are enacted, all as a result of parents convinced by their children’s arguments. At first, some of the women wanted to save their soap for only washing clothes, but they too have been persuaded.

Other hygiene practices are being adopted as a natural progression from the hand washing activity. Youssouf says, “At school we’ve learned to keep our drinking water clean. We’ve got a new pump in the compound and no one’s allowed to step near it wearing their shoes. There’s a fine to pay if a boy or girl forgets. We’ve made the women aware there should be a cover protecting the village well, and that they must keep their buckets off the ground to avoid dirt contaminating the water.”

At the well he points out the forked sticks plunged into the ground with the buckets hanging on them, their ropes still attached and dripping. He concludes with a confident grin, “This is another way to protect our health. If we are well, we’ll be able to study well.”




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