UNICEF provides handwashing to support school reopening
Schools provided with soap and water to help prevent the spread of COVID-19
The closure of schools in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interrupted learning for over 17 million students in Kenya. Adolescent girls were particularly affected due to teenage pregnancy, child marriage and other risks. Now, 14-year-old Prudence Chege from Roysambu Primary School in Nairobi County is among hundreds of thousands of students who are back in school following the phased reopening of schools, starting with Grade 4, Class 8 and Form 4.
“It feels good to be back in school after such a long time,” Prudence says. “I was starting to forget some of the things that I had learnt. I feel safer while am here in school because I interact with fewer people and we observe the preventive measures against the spread of coronavirus.”
Prudence, who also serves as the President of Roysambu Primary School Students Council, hopes to sit for her national examinations and continue with her normal life. “Some of the changes I have seen since coming back to school include maintaining social distance in and outside classes and wearing face masks,” she says. “There are handwashing facilities almost everywhere and use of hand sanitizers.”
In Kenya, the net enrolment rate for children in primary education is 92.2 percent for boys but only 89.9 percent for girls. Access to education is limited for girls due to several factors including gender inequality and stereotypes, households chores, teenage pregnancies and child marriage. With COVID-19 and school closures, the situation seems to be worsening for girls.
In response, UNICEF is launching an Out of School programme which includes a focus on gender. This aims to ensure that girls, boys and children with disabilities who are currently out of school are enrolled and retained in schools. It includes economic empowerment of parents, a back-to-school campaign, teacher training, mentorship and psychosocial support.
To help with the safe reopening of schools, UNICEF has worked with the Government on guidelines for schools and is continuing to distribute soap and install hand-washing facilities in many schools that don’t have these. UNICEF will also be supporting the Ministry of Education with a ‘Back to School’ campaign, which aims to ensure that all children, including those had previously dropped out, return to schools safely when they reopen.
“As children return to school, we are working with the Government and partners to help ensure a smooth transition for learners, teachers and the wider community,” UNICEF Chief of Education Marilyn Hoar says. “As well as supporting water, sanitation and hygiene in schools, we are continuing to provide remote learning support for children whose year groups are not yet back in school and providing parents with reliable and accurate information.”
Nellius Njoroge, the Headteacher at Roysambu Primary School, helps students wash their hands at a waterpoint provided by UNICEF. The school has over seven such facilities set up at various locations in the school to enable students to wash their hands and maintain good hygiene. “Through UNICEF’s support, our students are able to wash their hands every morning before proceeding to class and on a need basis throughout the day while they are in school,” Nellius says.
Story by Lucas Odhiambo, UNICEF Kenya