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Children are the best teachers in Zambia’s drive for better hygiene

© UNICEF video
A Zambian child at the Government Basic School in Choma District takes part in a lesson on the importance of hygiene and sanitation.

By Christyne Bahringer

On World Water Day, 20 March 2008, UNICEF is focusing on the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reaching global goals for safe water. Here is one in a series of related reports.

CHOMA DISTRICT, Zambia, 19 March 2008 – Miyoba Milton is a big man with a big job – Headmaster at the Government Basic School in Choma. He is responsible for approximately 600 pupils and just over a dozen teachers. His authority is tempered with humility and enthusiasm. 

“I never knew the importance of washing my hands until I learned from the children here!” Mr. Milton confessed at a recent performance of the school’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASHE) Drama Group.

“It’s too important to keep in school. We must spread the messages of water, sanitation, and hygiene everywhere, so that at school and at home children are always healthy and our community is safe and clean. Our children are truly the best teachers,” he added.

Bond between school and community

Mr. Milton's pride is not exaggerated, for his school serves more than his students. The school is also a community water point, providing safe water and sanitation to hundreds of surrounding households.

“The bond between school and community is strengthened by a sense of shared ownership, a message that the school’s WASHE Drama Group drives home at its frequent performances in the schoolyard,” said UNICEF Zambia WASHE Specialist Giveson Zulu.

The group uses music and theatrics to educate peers, teachers and community members about the role of hygiene in keeping children and families healthy. Increasing awareness of sanitation and safe water is critical, as diarrhoeal disease accounts for approximately a fifth of all deaths in the country among children under the age of five.

Breaking the cycle of disease

The experience at the school in Choma, located in Zambia’s Southern Province, illustrates how inadequate access to water and sanitation can create a cycle of disease. Frequent outbreaks of diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery made children too sick to come to school, and attendance dropped so low that the school nearly closed down.

© UNICEF video
Since UNICEF and its partners brought the WASHE programme to Choma District, school attendance has soared.

“There was no clean water or decent sanitation,” recalled Leonard Mukosha, an environmental health officer with the Ministry of Health. “Enrolment was about 400 then. Now it is up to 600, thanks to the new boreholes and integrated latrine system that UNICEF helped to provide. Disease has dropped sharply and the school and community benefit.”
Since the improvements in access to safe water and sanitation at the Choma school, more girls have been in attendance, as well.

Social mobilization efforts

In support of school and household WASHE projects, UNICEF Zambia joins forces nationwide with local authorities, and with grassroots non-governmental organizations and community groups such as the Choma Parent Teacher Association.

The drama group at Choma is at the heart of social mobilization efforts here. Over 100 of the group members' peers and neighbours attended a recent production – a series of songs, dances, and skits aimed at promoting WASHE.

These performances cover a great deal of territory, as does the impact of safe water.




UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the 'Talking Walls' project, which promotes hygiene awareness in southern Zambia.
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