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Sita, a little girl setting an example in the hygiene club

© UNICEF Mali / 2013 / Cao

By Cindy Cao

KOUTIALA, 18 October 2013 - Sita Coulibaly meticulously sweeps her classroom’s floor and walls. As she leaves the latrine, she carefully washes her hands with soap and water, ensuring that she sets an example for the other children. “I always wash my hands when leaving the latrine,” she says. “It’s important to do that before eating, after using the latrine and after cleaning the house.”

At 13 years old, Sita is in her 6th year at the primary school in Kolonto.  According to the school’s director, Sita is the best student at the school maintaining an average of 9/10 in all her subjects. She is an example for the other children who volunteered to be members of the school’s hygiene club which now has about ten additional students. She has many responsibilities: she shows the children how to wash their hands, and she leads her classmates in cleaning the toilets, weeding the school’s garden and cleaning the classrooms.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Malian NGO Alphalog helped to set up the hygiene club. This was a major challenge in a country where only 22% of the population has access to adequate latrines and less than 40% usually wash their hands with soap. Kolonto’s teachers were provided with several images on flip charts to help them raise awareness about hygiene practices among the students. The goal is to promote hygiene and sanitation at school and in the community to bring about a change in behaviour. Teachers, the school’s management committee and the hygiene club are also trained to carry out their roles and responsibilities at the school to maintain water sources, latrines, washbasins and cleaning equipment.

Sita’s role, as a member of the hygiene club, is to raise awareness about hygiene issues and mobilise the other students. She organises daily hygiene activities, and ensures that her classmates wash their hands with soap.  She also participates in writing songs and organising plays on practices relating to hygiene which engage all the children at the school.. Learning at an early age is crucial because adults are more inclined to perpetuate behaviour learnt during their childhood.

In addition, children share messages and gestures learnt at school with their families. On her way back home, Sita explained that her home also has a well and latrines that are kept clean. “My parents and sisters clean the latrines and the well at home as well. At home, we wash our hands with soap before eating. Hygiene is important for good health!” she concluded.

In the future, she plans to be a teacher. “But not here,” she emphasised with a smile. “I am going to be a teacher in a big city”, she said with determination




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