Hygiene and Health Go Hand in Hand
UNICEF is supporting schools in Savannakhet with essential sanitation facilities and helping to raise awareness about the Importance of good hygiene for young Lao children
Ms. Nang Xayalath, 25, is a teacher at the Naluang Primary School in Sepone District, Savannakhet Province. Every morning, the distinct rhythmic beat of a drum is the first sound that greets you in her classroom as she performs a roll call of her students using the class’s miniature-sized drum. With the roll call finished, the students would quickly form up behind Ms. Nang and the class would go outside for their scheduled morning hand washing activity.
Ms. Nang’s class is particularly special in the school because it is the only pre-primary class in a school mainly for primary students. Her classroom consists entirely of students from ethnic groups, some of whom speak a very limited amount of Lao language as well.
“Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to communicate with some of my students in class because of the language barrier. However, when it comes to hygiene activities like hand washing and tooth brushing that we regularly do in our class, they have no problems following the steps since they are keen observers. I only have to show them the steps a few times and then they can do the rest by themselves,” said Ms. Nang.
However, around two years ago, these hygiene activities that Ms. Nang now regularly does with her class would have been much more difficult to organise.
“In the past, the school had to rely on borehole water. I remember having to manually pump water from the borehole and carry it over myself to our class for my students to use. Sometimes the older kids helped out too.”
Ms. Nang. Furthermore, the school’s only two available toilets were also previously damaged and eventually became unusable, leaving the school children without access to proper sanitation facilities.
However, the situation at the Naluang Primary School has changed since UNICEF’s stepped in to address these issues under its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools programme intervention in Savannakhet province. As part of this programme intervention, UNICEF has supported the Naluang Primary School with essential WASH facilities, including a water tank with pipe fittings, hand washing facilities and toilet facilities.
Besides the facilities provided as part of the intervention, the intervention package also includes a training component for teachers aimed at enhancing the capacity of teachers in raising awareness about proper hygiene and sanitation for young Lao children in schools, including how they can properly maintain personal hygiene, how to properly use sanitation facilities and how to maintain a healthy and clean school environment among other topics. This component is also particularly important to the larger WASH in schools intervention by UNICEF in the province as some students, particularly those from rural areas, are still not familiar with the use of toilets.
“Some of my students come from rural communities where open defecation was previously practiced. Because of this, some of them are still unfamiliar with the use of toilets and refuse to use the toilet if I am not there with them,” shared Ms. Nang.
However, because of the mobility restrictions caused by the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and floods caused by heavy rains in Savannakhet province in 2020, rollout of the training component of the WASH in schools programme has been delayed as trainers were unable to visit and disseminate information to the target schools, including Ms. Nang’s school in Naluang Village of Sepone District.
Nevertheless, Ms. Nang remains committed to her student’s health and wellbeing. While awaiting the arrival of the trainers, Ms. Nang has already taken the initiative in implementing some hygiene awareness-raising activities for her class, including the hand washing and toothbrushing activity that she regularly does with her students, using the facilities that UNICEF has supported and consulting the manual on WASH in schools.
“I feel very happy about our new sanitation facilities since I believe that they will greatly help my students learn good hygiene habits that will benefit them, not just at school but at home as well,” Ms. Nang concluded.
The rollout of the training component of UNICEF’s WASH in schools intervention in Savannakhet was completed in January 2021.