WASH in Schools, a vital contribution to Myanmar’s COVID-19 response

WASH in Schools

Ye Min Aung
UNICEF Myanmar/2020/Thura Aung
07 July 2020

KAWKAREIK TOWNSHIP, KAYIN STATE - Effective sanitation and hygiene practices are now more essential than ever. ‘Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands’ is a survival mantra. 

Improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities installed in 20 schools and 27 healthcare centres in rural and peri-urban areas of Kayin State during 2019-2020, under the WASH in Institutions project supported by UNICEF in partnership with local NGO, the Community Development Association, are now providing vital resources in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quarantining, another important part of the public health programme to break the cycle of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), requires finding suitable locations to keep people safe and isolated while the 14-day active virus period elapses. 

UNICEF Myanmar/2020/Ye Min Aung
Gender-segregated latrine with disability access ramp

When the Coronavirus broke out in Myanmar, a search began for quarantine centres. The schools upgraded by the WASH in Schools programme provided an ideal solution, thanks to the high quality and accessibility of the new WASH facilities. UNICEF has provided water purification systems for safe drinking water, group hand washing stations with running water to promote personal hygiene, overhead water storage tanks and gender-specific, child and disability-friendly latrines at each of these schools. The new facilities are significant improvements.

Initial ‘teething problems’ for WASH in Schools have been overcome. 

At Basic Education Primary School No. 5 in Kawkareik Township of Kayin State, the head teacher was at first a little doubtful. Despite very much appreciating the excellent new WASH facilities, head teacher Daw Nu Nu Htwe found they were creating few problems and extra work for her staff, trying to manage student complaints. After investigation, it became clear that ‘the problem’ was everyone in the school wanted to use the new facilities, all the time.

“The new WASH facilities set off ‘a hand washing festival’. Students are washing their hands all the time - before going into the classrooms, at the lunch break, after going to the toilet, after playing. We used to pump water once a week to fill the old small 500-litre tank. Now we have this new 1,500-litre overhead tank, but we are needing to pump water two or three times a week, because the students are washing their hands so often,” Daw Nu Nu Htwe  reported. 

UNICEF Myanmar/2020/Thura Aung
Latrine for girls with changing room for menstrual hygiene management

When the first case of COVID-19 was found in Myanmar, the head teacher Daw Nu Nu Htwe quickly realised what a positive position the school was in with improved hygiene and sanitation facilities. Her perception of the problem’ changed and her commitment to the health and safety of her students and staff was strengthened. She phoned to express her appreciation to UNICEF and the Community Development Association for providing advanced WASH facilities. 

“Thankfully our school is ready with full WASH facilities and could safely welcome students when we re-open eventually. We are an exemplary school in Kawkareik,” said Daw Nu Nu Htwe proudly. The WASH in Institutions project (WASH in Schools and WASH in Healthcare Facilities) is guided by the Department of Public Health, the Department of Basic Education and the Karen Education and Cultural Department.

These UNICEF-supported projects are making vital contributions to the COVID-19 pandemic response in Myanmar.